The UK and US produce more plastic waste per capita than all other countries
Green Alliance argues UK needs a ‘new vision for resource use’ in report published this morning
Green campaigners have urged the government to set a legally-binding target to halve resource consumption by 2050, arguing that by doing so it would set a global example as it gears up to host the pivotal COP26 Climate Summit this autumn.
A report published this morning by the think tank Green Alliance warns the Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs’ (Defra) existing waste strategy, which takes a piecemeal approach to tackling different waste streams, such as plastic bags or straws, does not go far enough to tackle the problem and fails to address overconsumption.
The campaigners argued that an economy-wide waste reduction target for all of England should be the centre piece of a refreshed vision for resource use, warning the UK’s use of resources is twice the level considered sustainable but that “little progress” has been made to curb waste levels and boost recycling rates.
Resource use drives half of the world’s climate emissions and 90 per cent of nature destruction around the world, yet resource reduction is “routinely overlooked” in strategies to cut carbon emissions and protect nature, they warned.
“Ministers need to stop clutching at plastic straws,” said Libby Peake, head of resource policy at Green Alliance. “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 per cent by 2050 reduction target for resource consumption would allow circular business models to flourish while focusing attention on the incentives, behaviours, and infrastructure needed for better resource management, Green Alliance said.
The report also recommends the government match a headline goal with dedicated targets for specific sectors, noting different industries will face different challenges and some will need extra direction and support if they are to boost their resource efficiency.
Peake emphasised a target for consumption would help cement the UK’s leadership during a year where it is hosting the G7 and will co-host the COP26 Climate Summit. “A legally binding 50 per cent 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,” she said.
Dr Colin Church, chair of the Circular Economy Task Force and chief executive of the Institute of Materials, Minerals, and Mining, dubbed the report a “useful reminder” of the need to responsibly manage finite resources, from their extraction and production to 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,” he said.
A spokesperson from Defra said the Enviornment Bill would allow for legally-binding targets geared at reducing the UK’s use of resources. “Our world-leading Environment Bill will enable us to set down long-term legally-binding targets for resource efficiency and waste reduction, as well as giving us landmark powers to boost recycling and tackle plastic pollution, ensuring that both industry and consumers are incentivised to reuse and recycle what they make and use,” they said.
The spokesperson also pointed to a raft of existing environmental policies designed to boost resource efficiency and reduce waste. “Our Resources and Waste Strategy will drive change from a ‘take, make, use, throw’ system to a more circular economy,” they said. “Through our 25 Year Environment Plan, we are already committed to doubling the resource productivity of our economy and we are committed to eliminating all avoidable waste. We are also tackling environmentally harmful wastes through Extended Producer Responsibility for packaging, the Deposit Return Scheme and our upcoming consultation on consistency.”