What is meant by ecological degradation

Ecological backpack

When we shop, we are also responsible for something that cannot be seen at first glance: every product consumes energy and resources that cannot be seen at first glance. This applies to the entire life cycle of a product: from raw material extraction through manufacture, packaging, transport and use to disposal. All of these stations combined are also referred to as the "life cycle of a product". Taken together, they fill the so-called ecological backpack. Although this is invisible, it often weighs a lot. It helps us to understand how much "nature" we consume through our shopping behavior and how we can deal with it more gently.

The ecological backpack is the material requirement of a product, measured in kilograms, over its entire life cycle.

Let's take gold as an example: a ring weighs maybe five grams. But his ecological backpack weighs 2,000 kilograms. This is the amount of gold-bearing rock plus energy sources such as coal or oil that are needed to put the ring on your finger. A pair of jeans that weighs a little over a pound also carries over 30 kilograms of weight with it - without taking into account the tens of thousands of liters of water required to produce the cotton.

A simple rule is: the bigger the ecological backpack of a product, the more polluting it is. And the more bulging rucksacks we buy - often unconsciously - the more we damage our consumer behavior, the climate and the environment. This simple formula does not take into account the toxicity of substances that can additionally damage the environment.

The "Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Environment, Energy" has developed a formula that can be used to calculate the environmental consumption of the products we buy: the so-called MIPS formula.

MIPS stands for "material input per service unit". First of all, all the substances and the energy that are required for the manufacture, use and disposal of a product are added up and then divided by the benefits. These benefits vary from product to product. In the case of a car, it can be the kilometers it covers before it is scrapped. In the refrigerator, the hours he has kept the food cold.

The following materials are taken into account in the calculation:
  • non-renewable raw materials (e.g. coal or minerals)
  • renewable raw materials (for example vegetable material such as wood)
  • Extraction and cultivation of soil (for example through agriculture)
  • water
  • Air that is consumed (for example by combustion)
The backpack is determined and identified for each of these categories.

The smartphone

Products that have become increasingly popular in recent years have a particularly thick backpack: cell phones and smartphones. There is a lot of nature in these technical devices. This is primarily due to copper, an important component of the cell phone: The cables and the circuit board, for example, are made of this metal. Around 10 grams of copper are built into a cell phone or smartphone. To produce this amount of copper, around 3.5 kilograms of nature have to be moved. There are also other components of a cell phone such as other metals or plastics. Packaging and energy consumption also need to be considered. All in all, a cell phone carries an ecological backpack weighing 75 kilograms with it. If you consider that an estimated 200 million cell phones are lying around unused, it quickly becomes clear that the right ones are valuable treasures. That's why old cell phones don't belong in the drawer and certainly not in the garbage can. Rather, they should be used as a source of raw materials and recycled.