Quick-win strategies identified by WRAP could reduce use of resources by 38 million tonnes per year by 2020

Posted: Friday 31st December 2010

New research from WRAP (Waste & Resources Action Programme) has set out for the first time the contribution resource efficiency could make to conserving water and scarce materials in the UK at the same time as reducing our ecological footprint and cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

The research: "Securing the Future - The Role of Resource Efficiency" was launched at WRAP’s annual conference on 9th November 2010. It has shown that 13 quick-win resource efficiency measures would reduce the UK’s use of water extracted from rivers, lakes and underground by 6%. That’s the same as more than halving household water use across the UK.

Excluding water and fossil fuels, the UK currently uses around 520 million tonnes of raw materials a year directly. The research also looked at 11 materials of concern – including iron ore and steel, wood, plastics, aluminium, gypsum, copper, cobalt, lithium and rare earths - and showed how the same resource efficiency strategies could reduce our use of these materials by 38 million tonnes per year by 2020.

It also concluded that our reliance on specific materials such as rare earths, cobalt and lithium could be reduced by 10-25% by 2020 through the strategies.

This work builds on the unique research of WRAP’s 2009 report: Meeting The UK Climate Challenge: The Contribution of Resource Efficiency where the 13 resource efficiency strategies were developed and were found to deliver as much as 10% of the UK’s obligations to reducing greenhouse gases if implemented.

The new report considers ways in which resource efficiency can reduce the amount of water extracted from rivers, lakes and groundwater to provide the goods and services we need. It shows that water extraction attributed to UK citizens could be reduced by approximately 80 litres per day. To put this in perspective, the direct water use per person per day is approximately 140 litres. So looking simply at halving our food waste by 2020 (Strategy 10 below) we could save 350million cubic metres of water per year – the equivalent of all the water in Lake Windermere.

Just through redesigning products to use less materials (Strategy 1), WRAP estimates that UK businesses could save 59 million cubic metres of water a year by 2020 – the same as half the volume of water in Rutland Water in the Lakes district.

The report represents the first known attempt to track the movement of materials across the whole of the UK economy, rather than simply looking at sectors and products in isolation.

WRAP’s Chief Executive, Dr Liz Goodwin said: “There is growing concern about the future security of valuable resources such as food and water, given the rate at which we are using them. WRAP’s ground-breaking research shows there are things we can do to make a real difference if there is a will to tackle this problem.”

Rare Earths (used in laptops, flat-screen TVs, I-pods and mobile phone) have been recently highlighted as potentially at risk as China currently produces 97% of the world’s supply and has announced it will cut exports be a third next year.

The UK also named “disruption to international supplies of resources (eg food and minerals)” as a tier three Security Risk in its National Security Strategy released on October 18th 2010.

The ecological footprint describes the amount of land required to meet our needs. If everyone lived as we do in the UK, we would need 3 planet Earths to meet our needs2. Overall, the strategies would also deliver a reduction in the UK’s ecological footprint of 6% by 2020.

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