The government’s 2018 resources and waste strategy promised to put England on track to a resource efficient, circular economy. But, in the years since, there has been little progress and no targets set to achieve this.
The government continues to pursue policies focused on tackling individual high-profile waste streams, particularly plastic items like microbeads, plastic bags and straws, instead of addressing the root of the waste problem: overconsumption of resources.
A new report by think tank Green Alliance demonstrates that resource use is a critical issue for the economy, and that climate change and nature loss cannot be addressed without reducing overconsumption.
Resource use drives half of the world’s climate emissions and 90% 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 what the planet can sustainably provide.
Despite this enormous impact, resource reduction is routinely overlooked in strategies to cut carbon emissions and protect nature.
‘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% 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.’
Head of resource policy at Green Alliance
The UK has established a world-leading reputation for its approach to carbon emissions, particularly through a rigorous target setting and review process.
Ahead of the United Nations climate conference in Glasgow, and the G7 summit in Cornwall this year, the UK has the chance to continue to shape global approaches, with a pledge to reduce its own resource consumption in line with planetary boundaries.
The report says that the UK should now repeat the success of its approach to net zero and become the first major economy with a target and clear plan to halve resource use.
‘Today’s report launch is a very useful reminder that, if we are going to meet our climate goals without doing even more damage to the planet in other ways, we really do need to focus on proper, responsible management of finite resources such as critical raw materials, from their extraction and production, to their use and how we deal with them at end of life. It would be fanciful to believe we can tackle climate change and biodiversity loss without a laser-like focus on how we manage resources.’
DR COLIN CHURCH
Chair of the Circular Economy Task Force and chief executive of the Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining
An overarching target would focus attention across the economy on the incentives, behaviours, business models and physical and logistical infrastructure needed for better resource management, rather than piecemeal interventions.
As businesses recover from the impacts of the pandemic, a clear plan will provide near-term certainty and a stable policy environment to encourage circular business models and enable cost savings from resource efficiency.
The report also says the plan should include targets for specific sectors and critical materials to increase the resilience of the economy as industries will face different challenges, and some materials become potentially rarer or more expensive to source in future.
‘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.
‘SUEZ, and other resource and waste management companies, need greater clarity on targets and a roadmap that identifies when critical changes need to be delivered, so that we can invest in and build the necessary infrastructure, services and partnerships. We must not miss this opportunity to supercharge the circular economy agenda and put resource management at the heart of a green recovery.’
DR ADAM READ
External affairs director of SUEZ recycling and recovery UK