First-of-its-kind study reveals UK population over consuming materials

A new study has found that the UK population is consuming 20% more materials than the global average, restraining its ability to meet zero emissions targets.

Published this week, a new report by the Circle Economy, an organisation working to create an economic vision in which people and the planet thrive under, has exposed that the UK consumes 15.3 tonnes of materials each year – 20% more than the global average of 12 tonnes.

a cardboard sign that says all you need is less

The report, which is a first-of-its-kind for the organisation and can be found in full here, has also found that from all the materials used, a mere 7.5% are re-used. Whilst the UK imports 80% of the total raw materials it uses, it exports vast amounts of recycle waste – around 10 times more than it imports.

Should these actions continue, experts claim they will have damaging effects when it comes to the UK meeting its zero emission targets. The report, that was produced in partnership with Deloitte – an organisation that works with global leaders to support sustainable change – highlights that 70% of emissions come from the use of handling materials and lowering material consumption if crucial for combatting the climate crisis.

Researchers have claimed if more people participate in the re-use and recycle scheme and lowering the number of materials they are consuming, it could decrease the UK’s carbon footprint by a shocking 43%.

Alongside this, experts uncovered that material extraction – the creation, collection or extraction of raw material for the production of goods and services, often from the natural environment – is not evenly distributed across the UK. The bulk of materials are taken from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, but mostly used in England.

Research shows the material extraction in Scotland and Northern Ireland amounts to 22.8 and 14.5 tonnes each year compared with the UK’s average of 6.3 tonnes.

Whilst showcasing the tragic environmental effects England’s material consumption is having on the UK, the study also advises rethinking revenue models for businesses and industries. For example, choosing rental models over single-scale and boosting repair services instead of buying new.

David Rakowski, Circularity Partner at Deloitte, said: ‘With only 7.5% of materials that flow through the UK economy used again, a circularity gap exists. While this is a sustainability challenge the country must overcome, it is also an opportunity for businesses to learn, adapt and grow.

‘Adopting sustainable practices and taking a circular approach it is ultimately good for businesses, consumers and for the planet. UK businesses must start to consider to what extent their supply chains and the goods they produce are geared towards single use.

‘Piloting strategies that allow them to ensure products are created in a sustainable way, to be used and reused, is key to ensuring their own growth, as well as decreasing the country’s carbon footprint.’

Image: Etienne Girardet


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