Human activity and the Environment

Human activity and the Environment

Rapidly growing population

  • The population of the world is growing exponentially which means it is growing very quickly.
  • This is mostly due to modern medicine, making people live longer and more babies to survive at birth. It is also due to modern farming methods, which can produce more food than they could before to feed a lot of people.
  • As a result: more humans = greater impact
  • Potential problems:
    • Raw materials, including non-renewable energy resources are rapidly being used up.
    • More and more waste is being produced.
    • More and more pollutants are being produced, including phosphates (from detergents), nitrates (from fertilisers) and sulphur dioxide (from coal-burning power stations).


  • Materials that aren’t recycled are thrown away as waste. This means that:
    • There is more waste therefore more land required for landfill sites. Waste is toxic so more polluted land.
    • More materials need to be extracted/manufactured therefore more energy and resources needed.
  • Recycling processes usually uses less energy and create less pollution than making from scratch.
  • Things that can be recycled:
    • Metals: Metals should be recycled as there is a limited amount of ore – recycling means less has to be extracted. Mining and extracting takes lots of energy, most of which comes from fossil fuels. Recycling therefore means fewer resources are used up, less fossil fuels, less CO2
    • Paper: Recycling paper means fewer trees are cut down, thus preventing deforestation. Recycling paper uses 28%-70% less energy than manufacturing new paper.
    • Plastics: Plastics come from crude oil so recycling plastics conserves oil resources. Plastics decompose very slowly so will stay in landfill sites for years unless recycled.

Problems with recycling

  • Recycling still uses energy.
  • Time consuming and difficult to sort out, such as plastics have to be separated from each other.
  • Equipment needed for recycling can be expensive.
  • Quality of materials isn’t always good e.g. recycled paper.
  • Some materials can only be recycled a limited number of times (but metals can be recycled indefinitely).
  • England and Wales produce over 100 million tonnes of domestic, commercial and industrial waste a year. We do recycle more each year but a lot more can be done like other European countries. New laws are being introduced in the UK and the European Union (EU) to increase recycling, e.g. by 2015, EU law requires that cars will have to be made of 95% recyclable materials.