Newspapers, magazines, and junk mail

A 36-page newspaper, distributed for free at railway stations, weighs 90 g.
The Cambridge Weekly News (56 pages) weighs 150 g. The Independent (56
pages) weighs 200 g. A 56-page property-advertising glossy magazine and
Cambridgeshire Pride Magazine (32 pages), both delivered free at home,
weigh 100 g and 125 g respectively.

This river of reading material and advertising junk pouring through our
letterboxes contains energy. It also costs energy to make and deliver. Paper
has an embodied energy of 10 kWh per kg. So the energy embodied in a
typical personal flow of junk mail, magazines, and newspapers, amounting
to 200 g of paper per day (that’s equivalent to one Independent per day for
example) is about 2 kWh per day.

Paper recycling would save about half of the energy of manufacture;
waste incineration or burning the paper in a home fire may make use of
some of the contained energy.

Bigger stuff

The largest stuff most people buy is a house.

In Chapter H, I estimate the energy cost of making a new house.
Assuming we replace each house every 100 years, the estimated energy
cost is 2.3 kWh/d. This is the energy cost of creating the shell of the house
only – the foundation, bricks, tiles, and roof beams. If the average house
occupancy is 2.3, the average energy expenditure on house building is thus
estimated to be 1 kWh per day per person.

What about a car, and a road? Some of us own the former, but we
usually share the latter. A new car’s embodied energy is 76 000 kWh – so if
you get one every 15 years, that’s an average energy cost of 14 kWh per day.
A life-cycle analysis by Treloar, Love, and Crawford estimates that building
an Australian road costs 7600 kWh per metre (a continuously reinforced
concrete road), and that, including maintenance costs, the total cost over
40 years was 35 000 kWh per metre. Let’s turn this into a ballpark figure
for the energy cost of British roads. There are 28 000 miles of trunk roads
and class-1 roads in Britain (excluding motorways). Assuming 35 000 kWh
per metre per 40 years, those roads cost us 2 kWh/d per person.

Transporting the stuff

Up till now I’ve tried to make estimates of personal consumption. “If you
chuck away five coke-cans, that’s 3 kWh; if you buy The Independent, that’s
2 kWh.” From here on, however, things are going to get a bit less personal.
As we estimate the energy required to transport stuff around the country
and around the planet, I’m going to look at national totals and divide them
by the population.