This means that everything we take and use from our natural environment for the rest of 2022 depletes our quota of resources for years to come – and advances the time when those materials will run out completely.
It’s a scary situation, made even more alarming by the fact that this year’s Earth Overshoot Day falls a day earlier than in 2021. On paper, at least, we’re failing in our efforts to #MoveTheDate in the right direction.
Recent extreme weather reminds us that the effects of the climate crisis are being felt right now, and uncomfortably close to home. As parts of the UK, including Scotland, experience record high temperatures, it is clear that climate change will not wait and urgent action is needed to mitigate its worst effects.
Why the UK heatwave proves the way of life needs to change
What can we do?
We are all familiar with actions like bringing reusable bags to the supermarket, while some of us are making bigger changes to our lifestyles in terms of what we eat and how we travel to reduce our carbon footprint.
But if we’re serious about reducing our contribution to climate change, the most impactful thing we can all do is rethink the way we consume.
In Scotland, four-fifths of our carbon footprint comes from all the goods, materials and services we produce, use and often discard after minimal use.
This approach is a missed opportunity to realize the value of the products and materials we already use, instead of relying on limited natural resources to manufacture new products. Many of these resources that we know of are already scarce.
The demand for new products and materials is also problematic in other ways. Many manufactured goods have a convoluted supply chain that involves them being made elsewhere in the world.
This means that Scotland’s consumption habits are responsible for emissions that harm the environment, and sometimes human health, in countries that are poorer and more polluting than ours. It is a reality difficult to measure, and even more difficult to digest.
The size of the problem
Last year, Zero Waste Scotland published Scotland’s first Material Flow Accounts, which revealed that the average Scot consumes around twice as much stuff in a year as our environment can support.
This is double the amount deemed sustainable for the future health of the planet while maintaining a high quality of life.
Evolving a circular economy in which resources are used at high added value for as long as possible is the best tool we have to help us change the way we consume, benefiting both people and the planet.
What is a circular economy?
The circular economy is about making things last. This can be achieved through smarter product design, repair, reuse and remanufacturing so that goods stand the test of time and continue to flow through the economy.
For consumers, simply asking whether we really need something before buying is an essential step in reducing our consumption. When we need something, the circular economy means exploring alternatives to ‘new’ and ‘mine’ – making refurbished and used items our first choice, for example, and opting for rental models or sharing rather than outright ownership.
In Scotland, these business models are available for everything from clothing to tools to children’s toys, and even services like lighting.
Choosing to donate our custom to companies that do things differently is not only better for the planet; it is also a powerful signal from the market that we want more sustainable options and that we can help drive more innovation in the circular economy.
For businesses, the circular economy is an opportunity to future-proof their operations, grow in a way that is more resilient to future shocks, and most importantly, stay ahead of consumer demand for eco-friendly choices. Moreover, the move towards a circular economy has the potential to create skilled jobs in refurbishment, repair and new services.
What happens now?
Scotland is already making good progress in developing a circular economy. We are one of the first nations to have a minister with the specific portfolio of green skills, circular economy and biodiversity, and have game-changing initiatives like the Scottish deposit system already underway and expected to stimulate recycling and reduce waste.
Additionally, at Zero Waste Scotland, a core part of our work is to help businesses join the circular economy through dedicated funding and support administered on behalf of the Scottish Government. It’s something we’re hugely proud of, and we’ve helped over 250 companies so far integrate circular practices.
This is a truly welcome step with the potential to make circular choice the best option for Scottish citizens, communities and businesses, and ultimately reduce our society’s contribution to climate change.
It’s also an opportunity for everyone in Scotland to help shape the country’s future circular economy approach. Responding to consultations is a simple way for us to play our part – and Earth Overshoot Day reminds us how vital it is that we all do it.
Iain Gulland is chief executive of Zero Waste Scotland