Governments across the UK have identified that if we are going to reduce our environmental impacts, we need to address the amount of resources we use.

The Dasgupta review identified that if we are “to avoid exceeding the limits of what Nature can provide on a sustainable basis while meeting the needs of the human population, we cannot rely on technology alone: consumption and production patterns will need to be fundamentally restructured.”

Reducing our demand for raw materials can also support delivery of Government ambitions on climate change.  WRAP have identified how better use of resources can also help UK Governments meet their ambitions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero.  

The 2021 Beyond Recycling Strategy sets out the ambition of the Welsh Government to one planet resource use by 2050, whereby Wales will use its fair share of resources, and work by Zero Waste Scotland suggests that resource use in Scotland is twice the sustainable level.

The Waste Management Plan for Northern Ireland emphasises the role of resource efficiency in delivering resource management objectives.

The 2018 Resources & Waste Strategy for England and the 25 Year Environment Plan outline the strategic ambition of doubling England’s resource productivity, defined using the ratio of national Gross Domestic Product to Raw Material Consumption, by 2050.

Recognizing these challenges, WRAP commissioned the University of Leeds to develop a set of reference scenarios to explore possible ranges in future resource productivity in support of policy appraisal. This report describes the development of a reference scenario and four exploratory ‘alternative future’ scenarios.

The material footprint results of each scenario are presented alongside recommendations regarding the suitability of the proposed resource productivity target, implications for policy appraisal and suggestions for further work. Material footprint results are provided for the UK, and also for England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. 

  • In the central reference scenario, the UK’s material footprint increases from 1.25 billion tonnes in 2017 to 1.4 billion tonnes in 2050, equivalent to a 12% increase. This is driven by increases in construction minerals and crops, which outweigh reductions in fossil fuels, recognising that the environmental pressures of these materials is vastly different.
  • Final demand projections have a strong influence on material footprint. If final demand growth was equivalent to the previous 15 years (0%), the reference scenario material footprint is 0.89 billion tonnes (a 29% decrease), or with high final demand growth (3%), the material footprint is 2.09 billion tonnes (67% increase). 
  • Across the reference scenario variants, this translates to a 1.4-1.6x improvement in resource productivity (GDP/RMC) by 2050 compared with 2017.
  • In the exploratory scenarios, there was a range in resource productivity improvements of 1.4-3x. The largest departures from the reference scenario were delivered by a strong push towards resource efficiency coupled with a shift in final demand away from goods and towards services. 

Although the scenarios produce a range of results, the research suggests additional actions will be required to deliver policies which reduce UK demand for resources and increase resource productivity in line with strategic objectives. Further research is necessary to determine the role of policies including resource productivity and material consumption targets in reducing environmental pressures.

Further work should also be undertaken on the relative environmental impact of materials, as materials with the largest footprints do not necessarily have the most significant environmental impacts.

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  • Resource productivity scenarios - A technical report

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