WRAP report emphasises resource efficiency to help UK reach net zero

A new report, entitled Net zero: why resource efficiency holds the answers and published by WRAP and researchers from the University of Leeds’ Centre for Research into Energy Demand Solutions (CREDS), asserts the importance of resource efficiency in combating climate change and reducing greenhouse gases in the UK.

The report outlines how implementing eight key priorities could help the UK to deliver net zero carbon emissions by making alterations to how the population consumes materials, products and resources.

Surplus waste at recycling facilityAccording to WRAP and CREDS, the application of their recommendations has the potential to provide an additional 50 per cent reductions to the territorial greenhouse gas emissions proposed in the UK government’s Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution.

The authors note eight priority strategies that can be implemented easily and immediately, without need for specialist technologies or decade-long rollouts.

Each strategy provides a ‘practical blueprint’, outlining suggestions for policymakers, businesses and citizens based on existing projects that have demonstrably impactful outcomes.

These eight priorities include: tackling food waste; cutting calories and carbon at the same time; changing the carbon density of our diets; switching from goods to services; making better use of existing products; designing lightweight products; recycling more in the UK; and substituting materials.

The first priority shows that tackling food waste can have tangible financial and environmental benefits. WRAP finds that public-facing campaigns, effective food waste collections strategies, as well as a business commitment to the ‘Target, Measure, Act’ approach, are all instrumental for tackling food waste.

Moreover, a reduction in calorie intake across the UK population could simultaneously cut CO2 emissions, and moderate calorie intake towards nutritionally recommended levels.

Researchers recommend a ‘value for calories’ approach, where policy action encourages the consumption of ‘foods which offer the highest nutritional quality per calorie whilst remaining mindful of consumer preferences, pricing, and potential rebound effects.’ The report emphasises that this must be done in a way that is mindful and supportive of those in food poverty.

Calorie reduction is not the only way diet alterations can help reduce emissions. A shift towards lower carbon diets could see a cumulative carbon benefit of 554 million tonnes in CO2e by 2050, an amount equal to taking all of the UK’s cars and taxis off the roads for approximately 8 years.

The report notes that lower carbon diets are often associated with vegan and vegetarianism; however, policies that encourage sustainable farming and measuring supply chains emissions would also contribute to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from non-energy sources.

Changes in how we use, dispose of, and design products are also key priorities in reducing emissions. WRAP addresses that moving away from a goods economy and towards a service economy would result in higher resource productivity. Product sharing and rental services would allow products to be used for longer, and effectively reduce the consumption of natural resources.

In addition, tapping into psychologies and behaviours by cultivating attitudes of reparability and reusability would encourage making better use of existing products.

With rapid increases in second-hand retail over recent years, businesses are advised to take action in supporting this acceleration. The report encourages the retail sector to implement take-back schemes, and adopt models that reduce material demand.

Another recommendation for improving resource efficacy is to design products using lightweight materials. Measures aimed at reducing material input include material reduction targets for waste packaging, and flexible forming technologies that lessen life cycle impacts of materials used in construction.

Furthermore, while the last 20 years have seen recycling play a major role in the UK’s strategy to tackle climate change, this report finds that more can be done to have a greater impact on cutting emissions.

WRAP finds that there are opportunities for further efficacy across the UK’s recycling infrastructure, including greater consistency in household recycling and cutting the exportation of materials for recycling processing to countries such as Turkey and China.

Material substitution in the areas of construction, packaging, furniture and vehicles, could be used to alter the function and longevity of products, and lower the use of carbon-intensive materials. The Wood Roadmap is one intervention that would see policy create more markets for wood and other low carbon materials.

Realising these eight priorities could prospectively reduce the UK’s annual emissions by approximately two billion tonnes of CO2 between now and 2050.

This reduction would be an amount equivalent to the combined greenhouse gas emissions from the UK, France, Italy, Poland, the Netherlands, Belgium and Austria in 2018.

Marcus Gover, WRAP CEO: “The race to meet net zero and halt climate change becomes more urgent with every passing day, and with COP26 on the horizon the pressure is on to deliver realistic strategies.

“We have a perfect storm brewing with a growing global population consuming more products and putting more pressure on nature and limiting our ability to cut emissions. Our report shows how and why resource efficiency will help meet net zero.

“Changing how we use materials and energy today will create a healthier, safer planet for tomorrow and the strategies in Net Zero are simple and easily actionable steps on the journey to net zero. Through it, we offer a clear and practical roadmap to deliver huge reductions in carbon emissions.”

Professor John Barrett, Chair in Energy and Climate Policy, University of Leeds: “Putting ‘the economy’ in one corner and 'the climate crisis' in another is never going to work. Delivering a high quality of life for all is possible while reducing the throughput of high carbon intensive products.

“Our analysis shows the options available to ensure that we get the maximum social benefit from our resource use and how this will make a significant contribution to reducing our Greenhouse Gas Emissions in many of the “hard to mitigate” sectors.”