The relationship between rising affluence and reduction in waste emissions

Rising affluence has been associated with a reduction in the production of waste emissions within the UK. However, the waste emissions associated with the total consumption in the UK have risen. Can both these statements can be true?

There is little doubt that contemporary industrial society is increasingly becoming more consumerist.  The story of the twentieth century is the story of large multi-national corporations, some of which have an annual revenue surpassing the GDP of several sovereign countries.  Such a situation gives these corporations enormous power over the lives of citizens and the kind of lifestyle choices they can make.  One particular aspect of this consumerist society is the mountains of waste that it creates.  Due to demands on minimum expected quality of many of the consumer goods, the companies manufacturing them follow elaborate packaging procedures, the disposal of which adds to the total rubbish emissions (Taylor et. al, 2009, chapter 1).  The case of United Kingdom is no different and the country is grappling to find solutions to this problem.  Coming to the topic of this essay, there seems to be an apparent contradiction.  But a closer scrutiny of the topic sentence, as well as a careful reading of the text, resolves how both of these assessments can be true.  The rest of this essay will further explicate the topic sentences by way of presenting supporting evidence from the text.

Firstly, let us consider the assessment that ‘rising affluence has been associated with a reduction in the production of waste emissions within the UK’.  Statistics gathered over the last fifty odd years shows that the UK has steadily become a more affluent country.  With greater affluence, the nature and complexion of labour and industry has also undergone a change.  For example, at the time of the Second World War, the United Kingdom economy was centred on manufacturing, producing many of the ammunition and weaponry in the war against Nazi Germany.  The years after the end of the war saw a continuation of the process, this time the labour was utilized for rebuilding the war ravaged country.  But in the decades since, a gradual process of neo-liberal globalization took centre stage across the world, making countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom a services-based economy.  For example, the UK came to depend on the cars manufactured in countries such as Japan and South Korea, for these nations availed of superior manufacturing technology and cheaper manual labour. (Taylor et. al, 2009, chapter 3)

In the aforementioned example, the waste emissions involved during the manufacturing process would not be counted under UK statistics, but under Japan or South Korea.  In other words, the negative externalities associated with the process of car manufacturing would be shifted away from the UK, thereby skewing the data.  This case clearly illustrates how rising affluence in the UK is associated with a reduction in the production of waste emissions within the UK.  It also means that the environment of the planet as a whole is subject to greater damage than ever before, as the process of globalization shifts nominal environmental costs away from countries such as UK and towards Third World regions.  An interesting concept that is of relevance to this point is “negative externalities” (Taylor et. al, 2009, chapter 3).  For example, all the large supermarket chains in the UK, including Tesco, Sainsbury’s, etc, take advantage of the abundant cheap labour in Third World regions and source their products from there, a practice that seems to “externalize” environmental costs away from the UK.  But this is only an illusion, as impoverished environmental conditions in any part of the world will affect all human inhabitants, irrespective of where they live.  In addition to this, the emergence of a waste recycling industry has made it possible for affluent societies such as the UK to dump waste emissions in other regions of the world.  For example, each year thousands of tonnes of rubbish gets shipped out of the UK in large containers into other parts of the world, where it gets recycled (Taylor et. al, 2009, chapter 3).

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