Taking climate action by tackling waste and championing sustainable consumption
Our recently launched second round of the Climate Action Fund has a clear focus on waste and sustainable consumption. From repair & re-use to food waste, from tackling a culture of consumerism to deep-dives on individual waste streams, we know that a wide range of community-led approaches are already being implemented across the UK in approaching this issue. We’re looking for exemplar projects which demonstrate how communities can work together to tackle the carbon emissions associated with an increasingly wasteful society.
A hidden problem
One significant challenge is that the official figures for our country’s greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) include only those emissions produced within the UK’s national borders, ignoring the substantial levels of carbon embedded within the consumer goods and products that we import from overseas. Between 1990 and 2016, the UK reported a 41% reduction in GHG emissions, however the carbon footprint of the country’s consumption-based emissions (re-allocating emissions to the point of consumption rather than production) declined by just 15%1, implying the progress that the UK has made in reducing climate change “is not as substantial as claimed”.
This means that as products move more readily around the planet - the scale of the problem associated with increased consumption (and waste) can be masked by official carbon reduction figures. With almost half of UK created emissions existing outside the UK, the scope of national climate policy to affect emissions associated with consumption is diminished. This highlights the important potential role of communities in: raising awareness of the issue, reducing excessive consumer demand, supporting initiatives that encourage people to think differently about what and how they consume, make more efficient use of resources and stimulate the circular economy.
A wasteful society?
Hyper consumption and a throwaway culture have become hallmark characteristics of our world today. In the UK, the average household wastes the equivalent of eight meals a week while the average individual buys an estimated 26.7kg of clothing every year.
Unsustainable levels of consumption and waste are rooted within our society – our economy is driven by infinite growth and built on a ‘take, make, waste’ framework, particularly in fast fashion and technology.
It is potentially more difficult to understand how consumer behaviour is influenced when it comes to food, but meal deals, two-for-ones and multi-packs that use unnecessary plastic packaging to increase sales - have been attributed to the alarming levels of household food waste in the UK. It’s perhaps not surprising then, that food, fashion and technology contribute disproportionately to the UK’s overall consumer carbon footprint.
Changing the consumer habits of a nation may seem like a daunting task but in fact, establishing resource efficiency in order to meet net zero targets is an area of climate action where citizens and communities can have immense influence.
Reducing avoidable waste, replacing owning with collaborative consumption and establishing production practices that achieve whole lifecycle savings of both carbon and materials, are all essential to moving us to a low-carbon society. What’s more, these are all approaches that can be owned and developed by local communities through the use of networks and cooperatives that provide access to local food and distribution of surplus, the repair and reuse of existing products and the transformation of ‘waste’ into resources.
Over time, citizens have been redefined as consumers and happiness has become bound to what we own and how much we buy. The experience of the past year has shown us that what people really need - to not only survive but to thrive – is mutual aid, sharing and community.
So, how do we shift the narrative, moving away from materialistic values, to refocus on what is proven to bring greater happiness? Communities have a central role to play – they are the catalyst for behaviour change and attitude shifts within wider society, to encourage people to switch to more thoughtful ways of consuming and live within the Earth’s limits.
A circular economy model is about re-thinking resources, using waste to produce goods and championing ‘share and repair’ over ‘new and now’ to generate economic opportunities that have positive society-wide benefits. The challenge before us isn’t to stop consuming altogether but to think more mindfully, as a collective, about the ‘stuff’ we consume and the pace with which we consume it.’
What kinds of projects might we be looking for?
As we move towards becoming a lower waste society, our aim is to identify and support the best opportunities for community-scale action.
We are particularly looking for projects that:
- Have the potential to scale
- Are approaching an old problem in a new way
- that are exploring innovative finance mechanisms to ensure longer-term sustainability
- Are exploring narratives to engage new audiences and address behaviour change
- Are clearly pointing towards the potential for systemic change.
We’re also keen that applicants are able to identify the carbon impact of their project.
The following examples are an indication only and we hope that they’ll provide inspiration to communities thinking of applying, but we’re also interested in hearing about other ideas and approaches:
- Repair & re-use projects, repair workshops and skill sharing like The Re-Start Project and Edinburgh Remakery; or championing borrowing instead of buying new, such as the Library of Things has done.
- Food waste projects, like Made in Hackney’s Plant-based Community Cookery School, with courses focused on zero waste cooking, or Real Junk Food Manchester, which launched the city’s first waste food pay-as-you-feel restaurant. Projects may find ways to rescue surplus produce from farms where it would otherwise be wasted like Gleaning Network.
- Retail & consumerism – and particularly projects focusing on behaviour change. We’re interested in how communities can develop, and capitalise on, growing consumer demand for climate-friendly products and services as their own consumption behaviours change.
- Sustainable fashion – encouraging clothing mending or swapping schemes, such as Leeds Community Clothes Exchange, or looking at ways to develop and support local suppliers or activities that explore retail and fashion with respect to power and privilege and intersectional environmentalism.
- Reimagining waste flows - Project examples of specific waste stream diversion include community-led wood recycling projects; left-over paint collection; toy reuse schemes.
In this round of funding, we are not looking to support projects that look at waste energy (energy efficiency in buildings). We’re also unable to fund project activities which directly replace statutory responsibilities (for example projects looking at waste collection or recycling are unlikely to be eligible for funding).
You can find more information about the second round of funding here.