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Materials and the environment

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This article briefly reviews the link between physical laws and economics, especially the mass balance principle and the fact that economic processes invariably generate wastes equal in mass to raw material inputs and that are thermodynamically degraded as compared to raw materials. Some practical implications of these principles are reviewed briefly. One is the fact that the mass of process wastes, in general, far exceed the mass of materials that are finally embodied in useful products. The major categories of materials, namely fuels, metals, non-fuel minerals and synthetics, are reviewed briefly from the standpoint of waste generation and environmental impact. The problem of dissipative use of intermediates such as lubricants, solvents, pigments and cleaning agents is discussed. The notion of a materials cycle is discussed, along with some of the possible strategies and policies for (partially) closing that cycle to reduce aggregate waste emissions, eg. encouraging higher levels of renovatio, recovery, remanufacturing and recycling.

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