Category Archives: Environment

Food Waste in the UK

Food Waste in the United Kingdom

The average person will spend £16 000 over the course of their lifetime on food which they will then throw away. That’s getting on for one year’s worth of wages on the median salary once taxes are taken into account.

In 2012, 15% of edible food and drink purchases were wasted at an estimated cost of £480 per year for an average household. This figure includes domestic shopping and meals out. If you divide this by 2.4 (the average number of people in a household) and multiply by 81.5 (average Life Expectancy) then this means the average person will spend just under £16 000 over the course of their lifetime on food which will be wasted.

Of food brought into the household (excluding waste generated by supermarkets and restaurants etc), £12.5 billion was wasted in 2012.

Avoidable food waste UK

By cost, the largest food groups wasted were:

  • Meat and fish (17%; £2.1 billion).
  • Home-made and pre-prepared meals (17%; £2.1 billion).
  • Fresh vegetables and salad (14%; £1.7 billion).
  • Drink (10%; £1.3 billion).
  • Fresh fruit (7%; £900 million).

Cost of Food Waste UK

On a day to day basis this means in the UK we throw away…

  • 1.4 million bananas
  • 1.5 million tomatoes
  • 1.2 million yogurts
  • 24 million slices of bread

Of course this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the economic inefficiency of our food strategies. Some of the food we eat is effectively wasted because it simply goes towards making us overwight (37% of UK adults) or obese (25% of the UK adults). This then means we spend additional resources on diet regimes and gym memberships in order to lose said weight, or we pay more collectively through the NHS to deal with higher rates of weight-related illnesses.

Finally, one could say that the way we source our food is also inefficient – We only grow 53% of our food supply within the UK (I say only, I actually thought it was nearer to 40%) which means we also bear the cost of international food miles where imports are concerned. (Although in fairness, much of this comes from Europe, parts of which are not much further away than parts of the UK are from each other.)

Related Posts –

Why does the average person waste so much food?

Sources Used

DEFRA – Food Statistics Pocketbook 2013

WRAP – Household food and drink waste in the United Kingdom

Great new web site – ‘Welcome to the Anthropocene‘ – charting the human impact on the planet.

This post really just pilfers a couple of videos from the site to make it easier for anyone who teaches this kind of thing – The two videos chart the impact of humanity on the planet – starting 200 years ago in Britain with the Industrial Revolution.

Personally I think it’s worth showing the first 2 mins or so of this video (without the narration) first – because it’s so nice, maybe just mentioning what’s above

‘Welcome to the Anthropocene’ Earth Animation from Globaïa on Vimeo.

Then showing the narrated version…. which explains things in a bit more depth

Temporarily disabled because it kept starting up automatically – see the web site above

Should be easy enough to fit this in somewhere on a lesson on climate change or population growth.

Economic Globalisation – Optimist, Pessimist and Traditionalist Views

 I teach International Development as the option for A2 Sociology SCLY3 – I’m posting up most of my resources in order to encourage more people to teach it!

Economic Globalisation – The Optimist View

The main evidence for economic globalisation lies in the fact that there is now a single, fully integrated global economy. At one level, there is significant evidence that economic globalisation is bringing increasing prosperity. 

 1.    The growth of world trade[1]

Probably the most obvious evidence of economic globalisation is the increase in exports (and obviously imports) of goods and services, which accelerated rapidly from the 1950s. This has been accompanied by a corresponding increase in the GDP and GNPs of those countries that are part of the global trade network[2]. Behind this growth of the global economy lies the spread of capitalism (the ‘free market’) around the world. Even nominally communist countries, such as China and Vietnam have moved away from state control of the economy and now allow capitalist business.

Those countries that are part of the global trade network tend to have higher GDPs – There is an obvious correlation with practically all of the countries that top the GDP league tables also topping the export tables[3]. China, which has one of the fastest growth rates in the world, is set to account for 10% of all global exports this year.

2. The increasing role of transnational corporations (TNCs) in World Trade

Transnational Corporations are companies that operate in more than one country and have no clear national base – they will typically buy raw materials or produce goods in one or more countries in the developing world and then sell most of their products to consumers in the developing world. Examples include Walmart, Shell, Nike, Starbucks and Coke.

Today, 50 of the 100 largest economies in the world are run by TNCs rather than Nation States. They are responsible for three quarters of global trade.  Walmart, the world’s largest company, is Bigger Than Norway. If the retailer’s $416 billion in revenue were gross domestic product, Walmart would be the 25th-largest national economy in the world.

 Global Optimists argue that TNCs bring benefits to countries 

  • They bring in investment in terms of money, resources, technology and expertise, creating jobs often where local companies are unable to do so.
  • TNCs need trained workers and this should raise the aspirations of local people and encourage improvements in education
  • Jobs provide opportunities for women promoting gender equality.
  • Encourage international trade which could increase economic growth, access to overseas markets
  • All of the above means that wealth generated from TNC investment and production should eventually trickle down to the rest of the population.

3.    The International Division of Labour 

Many Sociologists argue that we should look at the world economic system as a whole, in which different countries perform different roles. There are different theories about what the nature of this economic system is – but at its simplest level there is the idea that different countries have particular ‘competitive advantages’ when it comes to providing certain goods and services.

One obvious example is that different countries have different natural resources and different climates and they can produce such things efficiently, so it makes more sense that they specialise in producing and exporting those things and import products that other countries are better at producing. To take an example – it obviously makes sense that Saudi Arabia exports oil and Botswana Diamonds, because they are blessed with these resources, and it also makes sense that Ethiopia exports coffee (which makes up 60% of the value of its exports) while New Zealand breed sheep.

To take the idea further, optimists argue that another resource developing countries have in abundance is cheap labour – so one way they can develop is by allowing Corporations in to set factories that employ people to make clothes, footballs and electronics, for example, which are then exported to the richer countries in the West. Bangladesh, India and China have all done this to great effect.

Finally, the role of the developed countries in this International Division of Labour is to provide ‘high skill’ and ‘high tech’ services – such as space technology, computer software and the development of pharmaceuticals. A crucial part of this is the role western countries play in education – Britain is well known as having some of the best universities in the world. This is shortly to end, however, because of reckless and unnecessary Tory cuts to the HE sector.  

4.    The World Trade Organisation  

A final piece of evidence for economic globalisation, and one of the major institutions behind the process is the WTO. Set up in 1994, The World Trade Organisation establishes world trade rules, the stated goal being to promote fair and free trade across all nations. 153 nation states are WTO members, constituting over 90% of all world trade with a further 31 in the process of joining.

The WTO functions through a number of high-level ministerial conferences with each set of trade negotiations (involving multiple meetings of the various member states’ delegations) often referred to as a trade ‘round’.

Global Optimists argue that the WTO has enabled the global economy to expand massively over the past two decades. The conferences are attended by nearly 3000 delegates from all 153 countries. The WTO has also dealt with nearly 500 trade disputes since 1994, disputes which, without the WTO could end in global trade being restricted.


Economic Globalisation –The Pessimist View

 1.    The growth of world trade is also responsible for a range of global problems such as –

  • Environmental decline – Every product produced and shipped requires energy – most of which comes through burning oil and coal. This leads to increased CO2 emissions, which in turn leads to global warming and increased climate problems such as pollution and flooding.
  • Increasing global inequalities – Trade doesn’t benefit everyone equally. There are several people in the United Kingdom, the United States and more obviously in both China and India that are too poor to benefit from the increasing wealth that increasing trade has generated.

2.    Transnational Corporations have too much power and exploit people in the developing world

Bakan (2004) argues that TNCs exercise power without responsibility. They are programmed to exploit and dehumanise for profit. Below are just a few examples of where TNCs have been accused of acting immorally in the pursuit of profit.

Transnational Corporations are one of the primary agents of Global Capitalism and many have been criticised because of the social and environmental harms they cause in the pursuit of profit.

There are numerous case studies of Corporations causing harm in the pursuit of profit – I like to divide these harms up into  five categories (click on the links for previous relevant blog posts)

  1. Corporations exploiting workers
  2. Corporations damaging the environment  
  3. Corporations profiting from the poor through the privatisation of public services
  4. Corporations working against democracy by co-operating with Oppressive regimes
  5. Corporations profiting from war

3. The New International Division of Labour – really benefits the West.

Since the 1970s many TNCs have moved their Industrial manufacturing from the developed west to developing countries. Theorists such as Wallerstein argue that these TNCs now exploit workers, especially women, in the developing world by paying them low wages in order to maximise profit. Goods produced in these semi-peripheral countries are then exported to the west to be consumed by wealthy consumers. Pessimists also argue that the establishment of free trade zones under the auspices of the WTO effectively means that the developing countries have less control over their economy as they compete in a ‘race to the bottom’.

4.    The World Trade Organistaion really works in the interests of Western Governments and Transnational Corporations

The richest countries and corporations are more effective at getting their voices heard. They often set the agenda for debates and issues of the developing countries are not listened to. Many developing countries have walked out of trade talks at the WTO as they have not been listened to.

WTO rules often end up benefitting Western countries and corporations. Free trade often means that developing countries have to open up their boarders to western Transnational Corporations. This has had a detrimental effect on developing countries.

Basically, the WTO puts the rights of corporations to make a profit before the basic human rights of people in the developing world.

The WTO lacks transparency: Many negotiations take place behind closed doors. It has huge power but its members are not democratically elected by the wider population


The Traditionalist View of Economic Globalisation

Traditionalists point out that while some parts of the world are truly part of a global system, others left outside. Some examples of this include

  • Most people in most of Sub-Saharan Africa are not tied into global networks of trade and consumption – many are substance farmers who produce and consume food they produce themselves.
  • Most trade is not truly global – It is regional – 70% of UK trade is within Europe, the USA trades mainly with Canada, Mexico and South America and China trades mainly with other Asian countries.
  • Increasing amounts of people in Western Europe prefer the ideal of ‘localised economics’ – consuming things that are produced as close to home as possible in order to reduce the environmental impacts of transporting goods long distances.





Human Development Index Report 2011 – Barriers to future development

The latest HDI report was out a few days ago – you can download the whole thing from the UN website and there’s a handy Guardian map here. Norway comes out on top, with the Democratic Republic at the bottom.

The HDI measures development by looking at progress on income, health and education – and then giving countries a score from 0 to 1. For more details on how the HDI measures development and its limitations- click here

Between 1970 and 2010, the countries in the lowest 25% of the HDI rankings improved their overall HDI achievement by a remarkable 82%, twice the global average. “If the pace of improvement over the past 40 years were to be continued for the next 40, the great majority of countries would achieve HDI levels by 2050 equal to or better than those now enjoyed only by the top 25% in today’s HDI rankings.”

There are, however, two things that could hold these countries back –

The first is the high degree of inequality within certain countries – this can mean that whole tranches of people are not getting access to education (in some cases girls in Patriarchal societies) or basic health care – which reduces life expectancy. This later is arguably what’s happening now in Ghana – which, after making huge progress over the last years in its HDI has now stalled – down from 136th to 135th this year, it could also explain why Britain, despite huge incomes, languishes at a dismal 28th and why Cuba, besides having much lower incomes – comes in at 55 on the HDI rankings.

The second is the adverse effects of climate change – While this is not measured in the HDI – this years report focusses on the relationship between development, and environmental degredation – It is not difficult to see that climate change could easily have an effect on income, and then a knock on effect on health and education. According to the projections below, it is the poorer countries that will bear the brunt of climate change in future years. Countries that have been especially badly affected in recent years include Haiti, Bangladesh and most of East Africa…



Of course, these are just projections and with sufficient political will, these scenarios could change…..

However, the problem is that increasing income is associated with increasing environmental degredation – The average UK citizen accounts for as much greenhouse gas emissions in two months as a person in a low HDI country generates in a year

But, perversly, those countries with high HDI are predicted to more able to ‘ride out’ the adverse effects of climate change – such as global warming, see level rise and deforestation –

It would appear that the ability of developing nations to develop will depend more and more on ‘the west’ moving towards developing a sustainable economy…..

 Related Posts

Economist blog – HDI broken down

How BP and other oil companies get away with murder….

Tar Sands in Alberta

Do you know where the USA gets most of its oil from – It’s not Saudi Arabia, it’s not South America, not Nigeria – no, its Alberta, Canada, and Dirty Oil is a thoroughly depressing documentary that looks at the devastating environmental and social impacts of tar sands extraction from a region the size of the state of Florida.

Probably the most depressing scene focusses on Fort Chipewyn, a native community who have lived for thousands of years on the Athabasca river, which, according community Elders, had never experienced cancer deaths until, that is, the arrival of tar sands extraction companies such as BP into the vincinity. The community doctor noted a 30% higher incidence in Cancer rates in this community compared to similar communities.

As any scientifically minded person would do, this Doctor started asking questions about why there was such a sudden and dramatic increase in the Cancer rate, and, without even mentioning oil, the provincial government warned him off publisicing the cancer deaths because he risked causing a ‘panic’ over public health, and he was also threatened with having his medical license revoked, so he backed off.

Suspecting the cancer deaths were linked to pollution due to Tar sands extraction, the community then paid for an independent consultant to measure pollution in the river, and he verified that levels were consistent with an increase cancer risk.

The oil companies response was, in addition to the obvious strategy of criticising his researhc methodology, to point out that because the pollution levels in the river had never been measured before Tar sands extraction took place, it was actually not possible to prove that extraction pollution had caused increases in cancer levels – it could just be natural seepage.

The problem with this arguement is, of course, that the Elders testimony that there were no cancer deaths before tar sands extraction, strongly suggests (unless there was some massive environmental shift in the last ten years) that the oil extraction industry is causing pollution that is literally killing people in Fort Chip.  

So here we have a nice example of how a company is legally allowed to murder people – basically all you have to do is to not make it a requirement for a company to do environmental measurements on an area before they pollute it – that way they can get away with murder.

So at the end of the day this is a depressing example of how oil companies can manipulate the political agenda and how crime is socially constructed by the elite – not only does oil money (the local government is set to receive $40 billion in coming years in taxes) shape environmental law (the company doesn’t have to monitor pollution effectively) it also at the end of the day enables companies to kill people in the process of maximising their profit.

Communique to Earthlings

Nice series of cartoons from the Transition Network – Gort and Klattu’s communique with earthlings – in which aliens try to reason with a representative of humanity over the damage being done to the planet.




Incidentally, one reason I’ve been holding off blogging for a month is to reflect on whether I want my posts to head in a more academic direction, this kind of thing makes me think not! You can get the rest of the twenty odd cartoons in the seriew

Profit before People – Madagascan Tar Sands Extraction

Madagascar - Unlike RBS and Total, they didn't go there for the oil
Madagascar - Unlike RBS and Total, they didn't go there for the oil

This could be the worst case of Corporate exploitation I’ve ever seen….

Jeremy Williams from Make Wealth History reports that  the contracts for the country’s oil sands lie with a conglomerate called Madagascar Oil. This company co- founded by the notorious Alan Bond, a man who was convicted and jailed for Australia’s biggest ever corporate fraud. Madagascar Oil is administered out of an office in Texas, and registered in the tax haven of Bermuda.

Funders include Credit Suisse, and French oil giant Total will be assisting on the ground and have recieved finance from our very own RBS. Profits will accrue anywhere but Madagascar itself.

Madagascar Oil has negotiated a deal that sees them keep 99% of profits for the first decade, leaving just 1% for the government’s coffers. That increases to a 80/20 split for the second decade, and a 70/30 share for the third.

As is that wasn’t bad enough –  Holly Rakotondralambo, an environmental campaigner from Madagascar, talking to numerous journalists this week says that

“There is growing concern among local communities about the effects that tar sands mining might have on agricultural land, water sources and the unique biodiversity of Madagascar; particularly since we have seen the devastation that has occurred in the Canadian tar sands mining areas.  There is great poverty in Madagascar.  Many people in the tar sands areas in Madagascar are small scale subsistence farmers who have had their land passed down through their families.  They are afraid that they will lose their land or that it will get poisoned.  There are also fears about the machinery and the huge lorries that will pass through this area to get to the mining sites. There are also concerns that water supplies may be contaminated with toxic pollution”