Bethan Jones, Head of Behaviour Change at Resource Futures, paints a picture of hope for the unfolding ‘resource revolution’.
As an optimist I can’t help but have hope that 2021 will see the accelerated changes needed to tackle the climate and ecological emergencies. The bold actions of President Biden in his first days in office surely send a signal to the world that now is the time for united action from every nation.
Rejoining the Paris agreement was expected, ditching the Keystone XL oil pipeline too; but the force with which he is mobilising the whole government and focusing on the climate challenge as an opportunity for jobs and renewed economic activity, is a welcome addition.
This side of the Atlantic we’re gearing up for the biggest show of unity on climate change the world has ever seen. All eyes will be on Glasgow for COP26 in November and it is our chance to demonstrate some of the steps forward we have taken towards a circular economy.
Policy may be determined at a global conference, but arguably the real impact will be determined by the actions of each individual.
Meanwhile, the waste and resources sector are collectively holding their breath in anticipation of the details on the next stage of consultations on DRS, EPR reform and collection consistency. The moment where the government’s manifesto commitment to create the most ambitious environmental programme of any country on earth will be put front and centre to judge.
Certainly, the focus on reducing plastic and moving to reusables is something that has been evident in the UK retail sector in recent months. We supported Waitrose to evaluate the impacts of its Unpacked initiative and it recently topped the list in Greenpeace’s Supermarket plastic league table.
But we know that The Unpacked initiative is only one element of Waitrose’s ambition to lead a journey of change regarding appropriate use of product and distribution packaging. The Greenpeace report shows that there is far more needed from the sector in the months ahead.
COP26 is also an opportunity for each of the nations to learn from one another. After all, we live and work in a global economy where the fall-out from our mass consumption ricochets across the globe whether it’s the embodied carbon of products we import or the mounting waste of discarded ‘stuff’ we export.
But our wealth and experience can also be used positively. In India, we’re currently working with E[co]work Association, and partners Sofies and Curry Stone Design Collaborative, thanks to a grant offered by Innovate UK through their ‘Global Challenge Research Fund’.
India generates over 3 million tons of e-waste annually and more than 95% of this e-waste is processed by the informal sector. This project will seek to adapt the concept of co-working spaces to suit the informal sector in Delhi, with the funding enabling the team to test the concept of designing a socially inclusive space for e-waste dismantlers in Delhi. The initiative aims to help these micro-entrepreneurs to develop their businesses in a safe and supported way.
This sort of initiative is something that could benefit many lower income countries and emerging economies, who face the same sorts of challenges in terms of managing their own and imported waste. Building the infrastructure and support networks in the right way will help to improve the livelihood and health of the micro-entrepreneurs and their communities, while also contributing to a reduction of environmental pollution and a more equitable circular economy around the globe.
Power of community
Whilst international cooperation is vital to help us all “Build Back Better” from the Covid-19 crisis, I would argue that the past 12 months have only gone to strengthen the power of our local communities.
Policy may be determined at a global conference, but arguably the real impact will be determined by the actions of each individual. The collective change in behaviour is what is required to change those steps into great strides.
It’s not too late for each of us to decide to change our actions and as an industry we must give every bit of encouragement we can to those who want to join our cause.
Through our community action groups network in Devon, we are seeing a quiet determination from individuals who want to make that change happen and who, in spite of all the Covid challenges, have adapted quickly to the circumstances. Our groups have set up community fridges supporting those in need, ensuring surplus food is not wasted, an area responsible for 6% of our global carbon emissions.
They have created ‘click and collect’ repair cafes, DIY beach cleans, galvanised school children into growing trees from fallen seeds to create new stock for tree planting programmes, a welcome distraction from tech heavy home schooling! With resolve and commitment, I am continually amazed by what can be achieved, even in times of crisis.
It’s the actions from within each community that mean that every day I choose to have hope. It’s not too late for each of us to decide to change our actions and as an industry we must give every bit of encouragement we can to those who want to join our cause.