Are we doing enough to tackle overconsumption in the UK?

This January, the UK Earth Overshoot Day 2023 was announced. It’s the day when, if the entire world consumed at the same rate as the UK, we would use up all the natural resources produced in an entire year.

This year the day is estimated at May 19th, a huge leap forward from previous estimations that put the date in July. With May just around the corner, this is a shocking way of imagining the very real impact of our consumption on the planet.

In Brief

  • Overshoot Day highlights the scale of the UK’s problem with overconsumption, and how both businesses and consumers will need to think about changing their behaviours for a more sustainable society.
  • But that doesn’t necessarily mean cutting back. In fact, for some industries new sustainable solutions are helping them unlock efficiencies
  • Businesses will need to keep up with the changing landscape of waste management to stay sustainable and support their bottom lines

It hammers home that real behaviour change is needed to reduce the amount we consume if we are to live more sustainably.

But it isn’t always businesses leading the change. Sometimes they need to respond to how consumers are behaving differently. For example, Black Friday, which has long been a holiday of overconsumption and hefty discounts. According to PwC, 2019 saw a record high for the event in the UK, with £7.8bn of sales made. However, since then, numbers have been dwindling, with edie reporting that last Black Friday was forecasted as just £3.95bn.

The rising cost of living may be a factor in consumers choosing to buy less, but it is also down to a greater emphasis on sustainable, long-lasting purchases.

Indeed, ethical shopping is becoming ever more important. This month saw Fairtrade Fortnight, a large-scale event supporting the Fairtrade movement, which supports cooperatives and small-scale producers to ensure ethical production across the global supply chain.

The movement encourages shoppers to look for the Fairtrade symbol on their goods, an easy and recognisable way for customers to make a difference. With the event making national news this month, it’s will be interesting to see how this momentum grows.

But to truly tackle the issue of overconsumption, industries are looking to the source of the issue to find new ways to produce less waste.

Take the fashion industry, for example. They have long been a target for criticism, with ‘fast fashion’ a buzzword for needless waste.

A recent assessment from the European Recycling Industries’ Confederation (EuRIC) has found that the reuse of textiles leads 40 to 70 times less impact than the production of new clothing.

With the study noting that 62% of used clothing and textiles in Europe end up being incinerated or landfilled due to improper disposal, this represents a significant opportunity for sustainable change.

What does that change actually look like? A recent Zero Waste Europe report has highlighted four best practices for the industry looking to design with overconsumption in mind:

  • Design for physical and emotional durability;
  • Demand-driven production to phase out unsold and discounts;
  • Full supply chain transparency and traceability post-sale;
  • Extending the use-phase after first ownership.

Taking this guidance onboard will help businesses become “truly sustainable” and “scale up their business models”, showing that there is real benefit to businesses prepared to shore up their supply chain with more sustainable processes..

Another example comes from the food industry, which is also often under criticism for needless waste. The industry is working to combat its negative impact on biodiversity, as monoculture farming (large-scale farming of a single type of crop that reduces the diversity of nature in an ecosystem) damages the British countryside.

The National Farmer’s Union has recently called for an overhaul of the UK’s “broken” food system, where farmers are “recognised and valued” for their work as food producers.

One way the industry could build in more sustainable practices is through an emphasis on blue food – food derived from aquatic life, everything from salmon to seaweed. Recent research has noted that blue foods often have less of an impact on the environment than the farming of terrestrial meat, with new farming innovations making it more efficient.

But will the UK really have to switch to only eating fish? It sounds unlikely.

For solutions to properly tackle overconsumption, they’ll need to make sure both businesses and the public are on board. That means reducing the amount of waste produced without compromising the end product. You can read more about the innovations in waste management making this possible on our blog.


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