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Green Recovery Insights: Conscious consumption from this moment of change

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The latest piece in our Green Recovery Insights blog series, is shared by Bethan Jones, Director and Head of Behaviour Change at Resource Futures, one of the Partnership’s founding supporting members. She discusses whether the disruption of Covid-19 will provide the ‘moment of change’ needed to ditch the existing fossil-fuel dependent, consumption-based systems.

We all know that we live on a planet with finite resources. There has been a huge amount of attention drawn to the mismanagement of these resources, such as issues around single-use plastic and marine litter. In a large part this has been driven by the inspirational work of Sir David Attenborough. His now widely quoted motto, “don’t waste”, sums up the need to treat the world’s resources with respect.

“Don’t waste electricity, don’t waste paper, don’t waste food. Live the way you want to live but just don’t waste.” Sir David Attenborough

Bristol’s One City Climate Strategy is already starting to address Sir David’s call to action. Bristol is aiming to be carbon neutral and climate resilient by 2030, and this will partly be achieved through designing out waste, keeping products and materials in use and changing people’s habits. The first priority is to reduce residual household waste and ensure that as much as possible can be sent for reuse, composting or if need be, recycling – with the ultimate aim of Bristol becoming a zero waste city by 2050. It will also be about transitioning the businesses in the city to a circular economy and adopting sustainable procurement practices.

Conscious consumption also features as one of the four key strategic goals as part of Bristol’s Ecological Emergency Strategy. By thinking about our wider footprint, it is asking people and businesses to reduce consumption of products that undermine the health of wildlife and ecosystems around the world.

Bristol leading the way

Bristol has always been at the forefront of the waste agenda. Resource Futures’ founder, Jane Stephenson, was involved in setting up the first kerbside collections in Bristol with Friends of the Earth back in the mid-1980s. At the time, she also tested the theory in Bristol that community-led action at a local level on sustainability issues is the best way to identify and implement solutions relevant to those communities. Covid-19 provided an interesting nudge for people to reconnect with their local community and become more involved in community life. (source: NIHR)

In recent years we’ve seen the hugely positive influence of Bristol-based City to Sea, driving a #RefillRevolution by making it simple and acceptable to eat, drink and shop without pointless packaging. Some of the shocking stats include that eating on the go (pre-pandemic) created a mind-blowing 11 billion items of packaging waste a year – that’s a whopping 276 items per person every year (source: Hubbub). The pandemic certainly caused a set-back for reusables, but with new research indicating that reusables are not actually the problem in relation to virus transmission and 115 scientists assuring retailers and consumers that reusables are safe during Covid-19, it feels like we’re getting back on track.

Bristol Waste Company has also been racking up the awards on the back of its innovate campaigns covering recycling, litter, waste reduction and reuse. My personal favourite, the Slim My Waist – Feed My Face campaign saw a 16% increase in the amount of food waste collected in the month following the launch of the campaign. The #Wastenothing challenge is now supporting a second phase of households across Bristol to drastically reduce the amount of waste they produce over the course of a year, with the ultimate goal of reaching zero waste. And reuse is also on the agenda, with the new reuse shop opened at Avonmouth Reuse and Recycling Centre in 2020, following on from the pilot we ran in St Phillips as part of the Bristol Reuse Network back in 2016.

A moment of change

But the climate and ecological crises demand us to do more and to act fast. The Resources and Waste Strategy in England looks like it will bring regulatory changes, around Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) and Deposit Return Schemes (DRS) as well as general collections consistency. Alongside this plan to double resource productivity and eliminate avoidable waste of all kinds by 2050, we are facing huge changes to the way we live and work.

This moment of change is giving us all pause for thought.

In Bristol, no doubt, we will continue to do what we do best, coming together to make positive change for our city. If we are going to create that sustainable city with a high quality of life for all we will need to take every opportunity to push forward that agenda.

This proactive approach to reactive situations is already underway: Through Bristol’s campaign to become a Gold Sustainable Food City, the #BristolFoodKind campaign highlighted the action individuals and businesses in the food and hospitality industry can take to prevent food waste. We are looking forward to Bristol Bites Back Better, a new phase of the bid. And the successful climate action fund bid will see six communities lead the way in co-producing interventions to tackle climate change in their community.

As local businesses we must now continue to support each other to redouble our efforts – be it using recycled content in our production, sourcing local supplies and demanding decisive action from our local government representatives – the time is now to show how together we can lead the way to a greener recovery.

About the Author and Further Reading

Bethan has been focused on the issue of sustainability since 2015, having spent the early part of her career working with big tech brands and Silicon Valley start-ups. Resource Futures is one of the Partnership’s founding supporting members and is an employee-owned, independent environmental consultancy with a 30-year heritage in the waste and resources industry. Certified as a B Corp, the company is committed to having a positive impact and using business as a force for good.  You can also read Resource futures’ latest Impact Report here.

To find out more about Resource Futures visit: www.resourcefutures.co.uk and follow us on LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook.

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