Research commissioned by resource optimisation organisation TOMRA and published by Eunomia in early July found that “best practice waste management systems” could reduce global greenhouse gas emissions by around 5% by 2050.
It also found that at least 50% of emissions responsible for climate change were embodied in “the things we use”.
Dr Debbie Fletcher, head of operations and principal consultant at Eunomia, said: “We need to get our ‘stuff’ to operate in a circular economy – where growth is decoupled from the consumption of finite resources – as making totally new stuff creates carbon emissions and other environmental problems.
“There are two things we can do now that will support this: first by setting and driving more ambitious recycling targets, linking them directly to maximising carbon reductions, and bringing them forward in time.”
She added: “We need to design materials that can be recycled, make sure we collect them, and get them back into new products.
“There are lots of policy mechanisms – like extended producer responsibility, being developed to support this – which need to be realised, but we also need investment in the infrastructure that makes this sort of resource management possible.”
Dr Fletcher spoke out in light of this week’s publication of the sixth Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report (see letsrecycle.com story). The report found that unless there are “immediate, rapid and large-scale reductions in greenhouse gas emissions”, limiting global warming to close to 1.5°C or even 2°C will be beyond reach.
Dr Fletcher said: “The IPCC report says repeatedly we need to change as fast as we can, so there is a role that everyone can play now and that’s through reducing consumption.
“The idea that reduced consumption will limit or cut life satisfaction doesn’t stand up either. The way resources are currently managed across the world include children scraping through landfill and communities inhaling toxic fumes because of other people’s waste. Neither offer good life satisfaction.
“Some might argue these systems offer jobs, but best practice waste management infrastructure would offer quality jobs, not dangerous ones.”
Dr Fletcher concluded by calling on the government, investors, and industry to invest “now” in “waste and resource management that keeps material in the system”.
Established in 2001, Eunomia employs more than 100 people, with offices in Bristol, London, Manchester, Brussels, Athens, New York and Auckland.
The sustainability consultancy is an appointed advisor to organisations including government, charities, global brands, manufacturers, retailers and waste management companies, as well as global financial institutions.