Business and industry face calls for more ethical behaviour. This includes taking responsibility for waste. All processes and products create waste, whether directly during manufacturing or indirectly at the end user.
Pierre Desrochers’ article in Geographical Journal (March 2009) looks at industrial waste in Victorian England. He investigates how the residuals from iron and coal gas production were transformed into valuable by-products.
One of the by-products of our own digital age is electronic waste. According to the United Nations, between 20 and 50 million tonnes of e-waste is produced every year. However, manufacturers still have a long way to go to implement safe disposal methods or to recycle it into usable by-products. The BBC World Service’s Digital Planet programme recently featured India’s e-waste workers. Many of them are children, who dismantle unwanted computers and mobile phones; for minimal wages they work with toxic chemicals that have an impact on their health.
The challenge of sustainable development is to find alternative uses for industrial and consumer waste which both minimise environmental damage and deliver economic benefits.