Recycling is not enough: we must reduce consumption

July 19, 2007 at 12:11 pm

New research from The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) reveals that while recycling rates have risen, we must change our buying habits and attitudes to consumption to tackle the UK’s escalating waste problem.

The report Consumption: reducing, reusing and recycling warns that the benefits of recycling may be undermined by the sheer quantity of waste being generated. If household waste continues to rise by three per cent a year, the cost to the UK economy will be £3.2 billion and harmful methane emissions will double by 2020. The 300 million tonnes of waste produced in the UK each year does not even take account of the waste generated overseas in producing the goods we consume.

Proposals emerging from the report include:

  • Developing more “closed loop” systems, in which resources are recycled to go back to their original use; for example, returning composted food waste to the land as fertiliser.
  • Setting a “per capita” residual waste target to limit the amount of waste each of us produces and backing this up with variable charging of householders for waste collection services.
  • Using innovative producer responsibility agreements to reduce landfill and encourage the re-use and recycling of old products.

The report also argues that social science can make a valuable contribution to waste policy and recommends ‘social marketing’, which involves the use of commercial marketing techniques to influence attitudes and change behaviour for the benefit of society.Meanwhile, a step in the right direction is signalled as nine of the UK’s biggest brands, with a combined annual turnover in excess of £9 billion, sign up to the Courtauld Commitment. Established in 2005, the agreement engages retailers to work with the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) to reduce waste and introduce more recyclable packaging. The Courtauld Commitment’s target is to reduce the 6.3 million tonnes of packaging reaching UK homes each year by at least 340,000 tonnes by 2010. The latest signatories include Britvic, Cadbury Schweppes, Coca-Cola Enterprises Ltd, Mars UK and Nestlé UK.

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