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Sustainability Statistics That Will Make You Consider Going Green

Last updated: March 5, 2021

We often hear about sustainability issues in certain industries in the United States and worldwide. But it isn’t until you dig deeper into available statistics that you understand how large some of these problems are.

To show the level of waste globally, we’ve gathered some of the most important and relevant statistics we face today.

We’ve divided these into three categories: food and beverages, recycling (or the lack of it), and the energy and transport sector.

It seems like from year to year, these categories get worse, but they serve as a reminder of how our lifestyle choices can make a huge difference.

table with different plates of food

Food & Beverages

1. Environmental Impacts Of Milk

It shouldn’t surprise that dairy milk production is highly polluting when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) and land and water use.

But there are also significant differences in plant-based milk to consider.

While almond milk causes the least GHG, almond crops are highly reliant on water. As a result, soy and oat milk are far better options [1].

As the world’s population is growing and more people make it out of extreme poverty in the developing world, so is the demand for meat products rising at rates never before seen.

The growth is not sustainable and will put significant pressure on climate change [2].

women picking up egg plants

3. Land Use For Food Production

An extensive study from Oxford University has looked at the detailed environmental statistics when it comes to the amount of land required for food production.

Not surprisingly, most meat and dairy products made the top of the list, with plant-based products requiring a fraction of the land to produce the same amount of protein [3].

4. CO2 Emissions Of Diets

It’s always great to see detailed data about the carbon emissions and air pollution of different diets. One study has shown the sustainability of a range of diets all the way from full carnivore to dedicated vegan [4].

The results showed that meat eaters caused 2.5 times more GHG emissions than vegans.

5. Food Wastage

The UN has tracked food loss and waste on a global level, and researchers have estimated that over 30% of food is either lost or wasted per year [5].

That’s a staggering amount of waste in an age where over a billion people don’t have adequate access to food.

man using a knife to cut beef

6. Water Usage For Beef

Beef production is one of the most water-intensive industries in the world, with each pound of meat requiring more than 2,400 gallons of water. As PETA points out, you can save more water by cutting out a pound of beef than by not showering for six months [6].

7. Food Loss In The Supply Chain

The National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) estimates that one in 7 trucks loaded with perishable food end up wasted rather than on supermarket shelves [7]. A lot of this is due to very long supply chains with food traveling halfway around the world.

Remember that when you see a food delivery truck the next time and think about switching to locally produced seasonal food.

8. Dollar Value Of Food Waste

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that industrialized countries waste US$680 billion every year [8]. Imagine how much good that money could do for our environment and people around the world.

Recycling Statistics

stack of plastic bottles

9. Energy Saving Plastic Recycling

A lot of regular household waste ends up either at landfills or incinerators. Data suggests that burning a plastic bottle actually costs twice as much energy as recycling it, and that doesn't even account for less toxic pollutants [9].

10. U.S. Recycling Has Stalled

According to the EPA, while Americans are producing more waste than ever, the level of recycling and composting has stalled [10]. This is a huge lost opportunity to reduce environmental pollution and create a more sustainable waste management industry.

11. Glass Recycling

For every glass bottle that you recycle, you’re saving enough energy to power a 100-watt light bulk for up to 4 hours [11]. That might not sound like much, but try to count how many bottles you recycle each week to get the full picture.

stack of aluminum cans

12. Aluminum Recycling

Recycled aluminum cans can save the most energy out of all recycled materials. It takes 90% less energy to create a new can out of recycled ones than to make one from raw materials [12]. That also explains why it’s one material you get paid for when it comes to recycling.

13. Paper Recycling

When it comes to recycling waste, paper is one of the most recycled materials after metals. The EPA has data to suggest that 68.2 percent of paper and paperboard is recycled in the U.S. every year [13].

14. Damage From Plastic Straws

National Geographic has estimated that Americans use 500 million straws every single day [14]. While they might not make up a large bulk of all plastic waste, these small straws can do the most damage to wildlife.

person wearing green gloves while holding a plastic bottle

15. Plastic Recycling Is A Growth Industry

By some estimates, over 90% of all plastic ends up in landfills, incinerators, or worse, the Oceans. That amounts to 8 trillion pieces of plastic in the ocean every year and why Forbes believes this is one of the recycling industry’s biggest growth prospects [15].

16. The Ocean’s Plastic Killer

Plastic pollution is killing about 100,000 marine animals per year [16]. This happens by animals getting entangled in plastic or ingesting small pieces of plastic that they mistake for food.

Energy Production And Transport Statistics

a field full of solar panels

17. Renewable Energy Production

Since 2018, global energy production from renewable sources like solar and wind have exceeded the 25% mark [17]. With industrialized countries stepping up their goals for carbon neutrality, the big question still remains whether it’s fast enough to stall climate change.

18. Solar Energy Growth

A report from the International Energy Agency has confirmed that hydropower remains the largest source of renewable energy. But the largest growth is surprisingly coming from the solar market [18].

19. Wind Energy Growth

The latest wind energy production estimates for future growth indicate that this industry in the U.S. could grow 160-fold over the coming 40 years [19]. That would result in over 400 Gigawatt output from both on and offshore wind farms.

car in a electric charging station

20. Hybrid And Electric Vehicles

Personal car sales of vehicles powered by hybrid or electric engines have grown at their fastest pace ever. Even with a recent slump in overall car sales, EVs and hybrids saw a 43% rise in sales during 2020 [20].

21. Hybrid Public Transport

While population growth is putting continuous pressure on transport demand, there is a growing trend for countries to switch to hybrid buses. Some statistics and market analysis expect annual growth of over 11% for hybrid transport vehicles [21].

22. Saving Energy With LED Bulbs

The latest trend in energy-saving household items comes in the form of LED light bulbs. Compared to traditional light bulbs, they can save up to 80% of energy and provide significant savings on your electricity bills [22].

23. 9 Out of 10 People Subjected To Polluted Air

90% of people worldwide consistently breathe air that is significantly contaminated with pollutants [23]. This shows that industry and transportation don’t just cause long-term climate damage but also directly harm people’s health and life expectancy.

24. Commercial Air Traffic Pollution

The EPA estimates that the commercial air travel industry is responsible for 12% of all US transport emissions and ultimately causes 5% of the world’s climate change problems [24].


References:

  1. https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-46654042
  2. http://www.fao.org/3/a-a0701e.pdf
  3. https://www.ox.ac.uk/news/2018-06-01-new-estimates-environmental-cost-food
  4. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10584-014-1169-1/tables/3
  5. http://www.fao.org/platform-food-loss-waste/flw-data/en/
  6. https://www.peta.org/videos/meat-wastes-water/
  7. https://www.nrdc.org/sites/default/files/wasted-food-IP.pdf#page=10
  8. http://www.fao.org/save-food/en/
  9. https://www.sccmo.org/863/Recycling-Facts
  10. https://www.epa.gov/facts-and-figures-about-materials-waste-and-recycling/national-overview-facts-and-figures-materials#recycling
  11. https://archive.epa.gov/epawaste/conserve/smm/wastewise/web/html/factoid.html
  12. https://www.aluminum.org/aluminum-can-advantage
  13. https://www.epa.gov/facts-and-figures-about-materials-waste-and-recycling/paper-and-paperboard-material-specific-data
  14. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/adventure/article/plastic-straws-ocean-trash-environment
  15. https://www.forbes.com/sites/lucysherriff/2019/01/10/recycle-coffee-cups-reusable/?sh=28001e97567b
  16. https://www.wwf.org.au/news/blogs/plastic-in-our-oceans-is-killing-marine-mammals#gs.tuixx9
  17. https://www.c2es.org/content/renewable-energy
  18. https://www.iea.org/reports/world-energy-outlook-2020
  19. https://www.energy.gov/maps/map-projected-growth-wind-industry-now-until-2050
  20. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/jan/19/global-sales-of-electric-cars-accelerate-fast-in-2020-despite-covid-pandemic
  21. https://www.globenewswire.com/news-release/2020/08/19/2080848/0/en/Electric-Bus-Market-to-Hit-256-Thousand-Units-by-2027-Increasing-Dependence-on-Public-Transport-Infrastructure-Worldwide-to-Drive-Market-Growth-Says-Fortune-Business-Insights.html
  22. https://www.energy.gov/energysaver/save-electricity-and-fuel/lighting-choices-save-you-money/how-energy-efficient-light#:~:text=Compared%20to%20traditional%20incandescents%2C%20energy,last%203%2D25%20times%20longer.
  23. https://www.who.int/news/item/02-05-2018-9-out-of-10-people-worldwide-breathe-polluted-air-but-more-countries-are-taking-action
  24. https://www.eesi.org/papers/view/fact-sheet-the-growth-in-greenhouse-gas-emissions-from-commercial-aviation

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