Resourceful times: why less is more for waste

The less we waste and the longer we keep resources moving round the economy, the more green and economic gains we'll make, says Richard Swannell

It would be fair to say that most people view reducing waste to landfill as the most important issue today on waste. I don't believe this is necessarily the case. Though undoubtedly an important area, it is only a small part of the overall waste problem.

Indeed, the steps to reduce waste begin long before waste arrives at landfill. For example, it would help if reducing waste was factored into the design of a given product. WRAP's new four-year business plan focuses on waste prevention and the benefit to consumers and businesses alike of considering ways to cut waste and save money.

WRAP's vision of a zero waste economy and the steps taken to achieve this has an order of priority. The most favourable option in terms of cost and environmental impact is prevention, followed by reuse, recycling, energy recovery, and finally disposal.

To get an idea of the benefits of waste prevention, it is worth considering the following with regards to water used to produce food. Earlier this year, we jointly published a piece of work with the World Wildlife Fund looking at the water and carbon footprint of household food waste in the UK. It found that water used to produce food that householders in the UK then waste represents 6% of the total UK's water requirements - 6.2 billion litres per year.

To see how we have arrived at such high figures it is worth considering just how much water is needed to produce everyday household food products, such as beef burgers. When you add up all the water used in growing the crops and maintaining the pasture, and processing the meat, it means that around 2,400 litres of water is used to produce just one burger.

Clothing is another area which uses significant amounts of water. Landfilled clothing wastes the water that was used to make clothes. An estimated 2,400 billion litres per year was used to make clothes that are landfilled, and most of this clothing could have been re-used. The water used to make the wasted food and clothing is more than double the water used in our homes each day. Preventing this waste not only saves money, it also reduces the amount of carbon and water needed for the UK's consumption.

So what can be done? Better design and more informed consumption will help us all waste less in the first place and save money. WRAP will support more resource-efficient design by working with businesses on new ways of delivering products and services to customers.

WRAP will also be working to improve resource efficiency in businesses and their supply chains and encouraging reuse, particularly of textiles and electronics. As well as this we also need to recover as much value as possible from the waste we can collect, whether that's in the form of resources we can use over and over again, or as energy. And the less we waste, and the longer we can keep resources moving round the economy, the more environmental and economic gains we'll make.

We also want to encourage repair and more recycling to cut as much waste as possible by working with individuals, communities and businesses. To help achieve this WRAP's business plan draws on our expertise, experience and ability to bring partnerships together to support real change to the way the UK thinks about recycling and waste prevention.

Dr Richard Swannell is director of design and waste prevention at WRAP

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