Mass consumption seemingly has no limit, as the UK is now the fifth largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in the world, responsible for emissions of around 800,000 tonnes of Co2eq per year.
With Hallowe’en and Christmas just around the corner, more plastic-coated wrapping paper, costumes and toys will only exacerbate the problem, unless consumer behaviour goes through a much-needed transformation. UK shoppers currently buy more clothes than any other European country and discard more than one million tonnes per year, with much of the waste heading for landfill, if not clogging up the doorways of charity shops.
A roadmap to address the urgent issues caused by consumerism is underway following a report’s revelations that up to 80 per cent of impacts on the planet come from household usage.
SUEZ, the recycling and recovery firm, has commissioned the Stuff of Life report which looks at ways to address the problems caused by consumerism, while urging businesses and the public sector to tackle overconsumption.
Environmental management consultancy Beasley Associates conducted the report which revealed between 60 to 80 per cent of impacts on the planet arise from household consumption.
This is a prime opportunity for the UK government to address the issue by considering policies that could also help to conserve energy and reduce household bills.
Policy makers at both local and national level can take various measures to support people in lower consumption, which is laid out within the report. Refill and reuse policies play a key role in minimising excess waste and refill schemes in supermarkets across Europe (namely France, Spain and Austria) are becoming the norm.
In addition to this, the report outlines how businesses could further reduce waste via an extension of the single use plastic ban, to include other single use items, such as fruit and vegetable plastic wrapping. The UK government has already banned plastic straws, stirrers, and cotton buds, but SUEZ’s recent report highlights why this policy must be expanded to other single use plastics in order to successfully eliminate unnecessary waste.
It is vital that businesses are held to account regarding consumption habits. SUEZ calls on businesses in its report to review their business models to reduce unnecessary overconsumption, for example mainstreaming alternative services to reduce fast fashion including subscription and rental options.
John Scanlon, CEO of SUEZ, said: “Our latest report highlights the role overconsumption has in negatively impacting our environment. We need to make a collective effort if we are to effectively make a difference.
“It is not just the responsibility of the consumer, action from governments around the world is needed to ensure consumption-based emissions are included within climate targets.
“Businesses also hold significant responsibility when it comes to this growing issue and need to step up and update their models to reduce unnecessary consumption and waste.”
The report makes other recommendations including removing ‘best before’ dates on appropriate food items (M&S and Waitrose already have the wheels in motion for this) and providing financial incentives to encourage reuse, repair and renovation.
Laurence Carson, Senior Consultant – Sustainable Business at Acre, said: “It’s clear to see that the collaboration between the UK government and its businesses and consumers is what will lead the UK to a cleaner and more eco-friendly future for all.
“Insightful and sobering reports such as those from SUEZ are just the beginning of the systemic change around mass consumption and its negative effects on our planet.”
Laurence works as a consultant in Acre's Sustainable Business team. With four years of renewable energy and sustainability recruitment experience, he has placed multiple mid to senior-level professionals into impactful positions across the UK and Europe.
In his current role, Laurence supports our global client base to fill sustainability positions across multiple sectors, with a particular focus on FMCG markets.