Public supports resource efficient policies, says report
The survey was part of a project led by the Centre for Industrial Materials, Energy and Products (CIEMAP), a research coalition made up of the universities of Bath, Cardiff, Leeds and Nottingham Trent, which led to the report, ‘By popular demand: What people want from a resource efficient economy’, published in partnership with think tank Green Alliance.
The results of the project, which surveyed 1,093 people as well as conducting workshops about the transition to a more resource efficient society, suggest significant public support for an economy that makes better and more sustainable use of its resources.
The most popular policies, according to CIEMAP’s research, which lead to better product and packaging design and longer lasting products, are also the ones that lead to the greatest decreases in carbon emissions.
Redesigning products to use less material and reducing packaging could cut the emissions associated with commonly used household products by nearly 20 per cent. These savings would rise to nearly 40 per cent if products were also made to last longer and could be shared via schemes like car clubs or London’s Library of Things. The findings reiterate those presented in an earlier report released by CIEMAP and Green Alliance earlier this year, which started that greater resource efficiency was the fastest way to cut carbon emissions.
Commenting on the results of the survey, Professor Nick Pidgeon, who led the team conducting the research, said: “We were surprised by the level of agreement from the many people we surveyed and talked to in our workshops. It was overwhelmingly clear that people aren’t satisfied and want to see change. They really care about this. They want higher quality products and less waste. Improving resource efficiency is an easy win for both the public and the environment.”
Libby Peake, senior policy adviser on resources at Green Alliance, added: “People are frustrated by unnecessary, unrecyclable packaging and shoddy products that don’t last. The government has a clear mandate from the voting public to make sure these become things of the past. If it gets serious about dealing with this in its forthcoming resources strategy, it will not only be hugely popular with the public but also have a new route to tackling climate change.”
- 87 per cent of people believe there is a strong or very strong need to shift to a society that uses resources more efficiently. Only 0.4 per cent believe there is no need at all;
- Two thirds (65 per cent) of people are frustrated by products that do not last;
- Three quarters (75 per cent) believe the government should be responsible for ensuring that businesses produce repairable and recyclable products;
- 89 per cent believe all packaging should be made of recyclable materials; and
- 81 per cent believe businesses should be required to provide repair, maintenance or disposal support for their products.
In order to capitalise on public support for a drive towards resource efficiency, the report makes three recommendations:
- Go for quick wins first by improving the design and lifetimes of products. Ambition in these areas is already supported by the public and can reduce embodied carbon emissions of products by 20-40 per cent, as stated above.
- Tailor resource efficiency policies to chime with people’s values. CIEMAP’s research suggests that strategies that protect the environment, develop a strong and ethical economy and provide high-quality products are most favourable to the public. Other criteria that are important to the public include wanting to know that measures are fair, affordable and convenient, that they do not restrict choice and that they enhance community connections. The report suggests improving consumer rights first to address concerns around trust.
- Don’t assume that only cost matters. People favour strategies to cut carbon and material use if they align with their values, and are not solely motivated by cost. Future propositions should be carefully tested by engaging with people early, addressing their concerns and motivations, thus expanding the suite of policies and interventions available to government to drive resource efficiency.
‘The ultimate win-win-win policy’
Commenting on the report’s findings, Mary Creagh MP, Chair of Parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee, said: “Becoming a resource efficient economy is a vital part of tackling climate change, as this timely report shows. Ministers must use every tool in the box to reduce the amount of plastic we use, and boost recycling rates.”
Ben Goldsmith, CEO of Menhaden Capital and Chair of the Conservative Environment Network, added: “Ensuring that we use raw materials of all kinds much more efficiently will not only save us a great deal of money, and the environment a great deal of needless damage, but it will also create numerous new green industrial jobs. Resource efficiency is the ultimate win-win-win policy, and this report by Green Alliance shows that people overwhelmingly want the government to grasp the opportunity.”
Brexit risk remains
Though public support for government action on increasing the recyclability of products remains high, Green Alliance has raised questions regarding the government’s ability to drive forward policy in this area, especially given the significant work remaining to prepare for Brexit and capacity issues at the Department for Food, Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra).
The government has upped the ante on waste and resources policy in the past year, releasing a series of strategy papers in the form of the Clean Growth Strategy, the Industrial Strategy white paper and the long-awaited 25 Year Environment Plan.
However, in December of last year, a Green Alliance report warned that failure to properly address the risks thrown up by Brexit, which will see Defra assume sole responsibility for the UK’s waste and resources policy without the oversight of the European Commission and Court of Justice, could lead to poorly designed products and less ambitious waste reduction targets.
These risks were highlighted by Greener UK, a coalition of 13 major environmental organisations including Green Alliance, in its Brexit Risk Tracker, when it labelled waste and resources a ‘high risk’ category earlier this year – though this has since been revised down to ‘medium risk’.
Part of the basis for the ‘high risk’ category was the level of cuts having to be accommodated by Defra – £147 million of cuts across 2017/18 and 2018/19 – while having to expand its workforce to deal with Brexit. It was recently revealed that the department is still short of 1,400 staff ahead of the Brexit deadline of March 2019, while last week’s Budget showed that the squeeze on funding is set to continue – Defra’s departmental resource budget is set to be reduced by a further £100 million between 2018/19 and 2019/20.
While the final nature of Brexit is still to be decided, the future of the UK’s waste and resources policy remains up in the air. Much will depend on the contents of the Resources and Waste Strategy, now expected before the end of the year, to ascertain whether the government is ready to take advantage of public support and drive the UK towards a resource efficient future.