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Companies slash raw materials to up profits

Xerox has a program whereby copiers can be leased by companies who later take the machine back for recycling or remanufacture   

December 21, 1998
Web posted at: 2:00 PM EST

By Environmental News Network staff

(ENN) -- Consumers, businesses and governments around the world are finding ways to profit and prosper while simultaneously slashing their use of wood, metal, stone, plastic and other materials, reports a new study from the Worldwatch Institute.

Such reductions will remove many contributors to global warming, species loss, pollution, lead poisoning, and a long list of other environmental and health problems, according to Worldwatch.

"Groups as different as neighborhood associations and corporations are discovering that economic well-being is not necessarily linked to using vast quantities of materials," notes Gary Gardner, senior researcher at Worldwatch and co-author with Payal Sampat of Mind Over Matter: Recasting the Role of Materials in Our Lives. "In fact, getting more of what we want through smarter use of materials is a winner for the bottom line and the environment."

Some firms, including the Xerox Corporation and Interface Inc., a manufacturer of floor tiles, are now supplying customers with services, rather than making and selling goods. The companies lease their copiers and carpet tiles, taking the products back for recycling or remanufacture. Their materials thus circulate much longer -- requiring a minimum of virgin material and generating a minimum of waste.

Xerox estimates that its remanufacturing program diverted 30,000 tons from landfills in 1997 alone. Interface, which has cut landfilled factory wastes by 60 percent since 1995, achieved a 20 percent jump in sales between 1995 and 1996 with virtually no increase in materials use-and posted record profits.

Individuals have also pitched in. A group called the Global Action Plan for the Earth has brought households together to discuss strategies. Some 8,000 neighborhood teams in Europe and 3,000 teams in the U.S. participate, each sending 42 percent less waste to landfills, using 25 percent less water and generating 16 percent less carbon emissions, while saving $401 a year per household.

The amount of materials used in industrial countries is astonishing. The average American uses at least 101 kilos (222 pounds) of materials every day. In the 20th century, materials use has grown 18-fold in the United States alone. In that time, aluminum production has climbed more than 3,000-fold and synthetic chemicals production has increased 1,000 fold since 1930 in the United States alone. If developing countries embrace this model, the human impact on the natural world will only become more severe. Sustaining the world at an American or Canadian level of resource use would require the land area of three Earths, according to Worldwatch.

For more information, contact Mary Caron, Worldwatch Institute, (202)452-1992, ext. 527, email:

Copyright 1998, Environmental News Network, All Rights Reserved

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