Resource Use

Green Alliance report advises UK to halve resource consumption

The Green Alliance has released its latest report, advising that the UK needs to reconsider its resources and waste strategy and focus on halving its resource consumption.

building siteThe research has been published as part of the think tank's work for the Circular Economy Task Force and advises that the UK’s current strategy will not be enough to create a resource efficient, circular economy.

It advises that government focus needs to move away from policies that tackle individual waste streams, such as plastics bags and straws, and address the overconsumption of resources, which the Green Alliance considers the ‘root of the waste problem’.

The report also states that climate change and nature loss cannot be addressed without reducing overconsumption and calls on the UK Government to use its position as a world leader in its approach to carbon emissions to become the first major economy to pledge similar targets to reduce its own resource consumption.

Currently, the main legally binding target for resource and waste in England is to meet a 65 per cent municipal waste recycling target by 2035.

The Government also has a number of non-strategic commitments, including working towards eliminating food waste in landfill by 2030 and avoidable food waste by 2050, as well as doubling resource productivity by 2050.

The Green Alliance says these targets are welcomed, but do not guarantee a reduction in resource use and has called for a target for resource use reduction to be added.

Libby Peake, Head of Resource Policy at Green Alliance and the author of this report, commented: “Ministers need to stop clutching at plastic straws. The UK’s unsustainable resource use is bigger than that.

“An ambitious target is necessary to focus minds on reducing our consumption to sustainable levels, just like net zero has done for climate action.

“A legally binding 50 per cent by 2050 reduction target for consumption would provide a clear signal to other nations of the UK’s seriousness to act on this major global economic and environmental issue, and will provide global leadership on resources at this year’s international summits.”

Resource use drives half of the world’s climate emissions and 90 per cent of nature destruction around the world, and the UK’s use of resources, both renewable and finite, is twice the level considered sustainable.

When it comes to renewable natural resources alone, it is estimated the UK uses three times the level the planet can sustainably provide.

The report adds that a clear target to halve resource consumption would focus attention across the economy on the behaviours, business models and infrastructures needed for better resource management, rather than the ‘piecemeal interventions’ that individual waste stream policies currently provide.

It also cites the economic recovery from the pandemic as an ideal time to set out a ‘clear plan’ to encourage circular business models and cost savings from resource efficiency.

The report states that individual targets for specific sectors and critical materials should be introduced, as some materials are likely to become rarer or more expensive in the future, to help create a roadmap that identifies what each sector can do to contribute to the economy wide goal.

It highlights that some high impact sectors such as the food, textiles and electronics industries already have industry initiatives in place voluntarily, but advises these often avoid targeting an absolute reduction in material use.

But the Green Alliance recommends such targets could form the basis of sector groups setting mandatory statutory targets to help meet an economy wide goal.

It also recommends that legally binding interim goals are introduced, similar to the ones the government has in place to help the move towards its net-zero targets, to focus all parts of the economy and compel the government to stay on track to reaching its resource targets.

Dr Adam Read, External Affairs Director of SUEZ recycling and recovery UK, added: “This report highlights one of the key failings of resource and waste management thinking, namely a lack of a simple yet overarching resource reduction target, as we have now for carbon emissions.

“Without reducing consumption and managing resources more efficiently, we cannot deliver on our climate change objectives, nor will we see the necessary leap in circular business models. For too long our policy landscape has been dominated by siloed thinking, targets and initiatives.”