Some twenty five years ago, the threefold mantra of Reduce – Reuse – Recycle was well-known and very strong. Funnily enough, as the credit boom of the 90s gathered pace the 3R’s fell from favour. Organic and recycled became synonymous with chic – and often commanded a premium price.
As readers of this column will know, I have become extremely aware of the incapacity of leaders – in politics, society and industry – to properly address matters of consumption. Unsurprisingly, ‘Reduce’ – the first element in the environmental triangle – has taken a back seat in the last twenty years or more.
‘Reduce’ is not a popular theme – and it doesn’t work for politicians: More than one UK MP has bluntly informed me that any politician who goes to the hustings with a voter-message of expect-less and consume-less is set for political hari-kari. I can see how that works for politicians – but for how much longer?
The global credit boom encouraged consumption, expansion and growth-of-a-kind. Indeed the UK’s greenhouse emissions as measured by consumption have actually increased some 30% in the period 1990-2006.
And the credit crunch has unsurprisingly thrown new shapes into the environmental movement. And lately the idea of waste prevention – while not the same as ‘reduce’ or lowered consumption – is currently gaining ground and fits the mood of the current times very well.
There is much to commend the waste prevention approach – especially if it manages to provide any kind of bridgehead or channel to develop consumer responsibility.
DEFRA, WRAP and UK local authorities have all lately combined together in order to help develop a range of social instruments that will give understanding of the benefits of waste production in tonnage, carbon and cost terms.
Indeed our old friend ‘Reduce’ gets a look in as one of the three primary ways – ‘those that prevent the acquisition of waste products by households avoiding their production entirely (eg reducing junk mail)’ Can’t say fairer than that. Other measures include Reuse’ and still others include systems such as home composting in various ways.
At the Packaging Federation we warmly welcome the return of ‘Reduce’ – it being no stranger to the best in packaging and the environmental practices. We look forward to assisting the DEFRA/WRAP work as it goes forward with suggestions and solutions.