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Mass consumption is destroying the planet and individuals have the power to save it

Consumers have the collective strength to reduce carbon emissions and stop the global climate emergency, according to Zero Waste Scotland.

16 Sep 19

With the United Nations estimating as little as 12 years until global warming reaches a turning point we will not be able to return from, the environmental organisation’s chief executive Iain Gulland is seeking to highlight the important role each and every Scot can play by harnessing their collective power and challenge the need for ‘quick-hit’ purchases promoted by retailers.

Buying and wasting less would protect the nation’s environment and reduce Scotland’s carbon footprint.  The carbon footprint is the sum of the emissions created by people living their daily lives and is considered the most accurate way to gauge the impact of our lifestyle, because it includes all the emissions generated by our consumption, including from imported goods. 

Mr Gulland said: “Around four fifths of our carbon footprint is caused by our huge consumption habit and it can’t be fixed by tinkering around the edges.

“At current rates, we would need three planets to keep up with the demand for materials – and we just have one. Saying ‘but we aren’t the worst’ isn’t an acceptable excuse, we know that Scotland can lead the way in showing other developed nations how to change our lifestyles to be less reliant on readily disposable goods. There needs to be a sea change in our disposable consumer culture and it can’t wait any longer.”

Producing everything we buy, whether it is food, clothes, toys or electrical equipment, generates greenhouse gases.

It can be easy to forget the processes all our goods and products have been involved in before they reach us. If this was more widely known, it is hoped more value would be placed in their worth and they would not be discarded so quickly.

For example, a typical bowl of cereal uses fuel and energy from the corn being harvested in the field being transported, processed and put in packaging, which has been made from trees and oil, to the milk that requires land to feed the cows and fuel and energy to produce, package and transport.

Zero Waste Scotland is campaigning to raise awareness of the impact of what we consume and urges people to consider whether they need what they are shopping for and to think of the processes that are used before items reach shop shelves. Successfully reducing our demand for raw materials and new products would reduce global emissions that are speeding up climate change.

In simple terms, we need to change our consumption habit from a ‘make, use, dispose’ culture to a ‘make, use, remake’. The ultimate goal is to maintain and improve our quality of living, while at the same time reducing our consumption of products and materials. This will have a positive impact on our planet. Some studies estimate that this circular economy approach could eradicate almost a halve of our carbon footprint by 2050.

Everyone can take action right now to reduce their carbon footprint. This includes:

  • Shop second-hand for clothes and electricals instead of buying brand new
  • Ditch easily discarded fast fashion for higher quality clothing
  • Have a reusable cup for a takeaway hot drink
  • Buy locally-produced items
  • Repair items rather than throwing them out
  • Use reusable packaging at shops and takeaway restaurants
  • Purchasing gift experiences over items
  • Switching from single-use items to reusable products, where possible, for items such as wet wipes and sanitary products

Mr Gulland said this doesn’t need to come at the cost of 21st century living. Every day, we see more people adopting smarter choices that don’t damage the environment, and he believes that very soon people who are not doing this will be in the minority. All the while making these changes will support local produce and local jobs in all types of industries.

He added said: “Previous generations used and reused products for as long as possible and it is this approach that can become commonplace once again in the modern world.

“We are making progress, the public attitude to plastics has changed significantly in recent years as more and more shun straws or single-use coffee cups. The introduction of the carrier bag charge led to a huge drop in the volume of single-use bags and has been a great success for Scotland.

“There is reason to be optimistic in the work that is being done but we still need to do more. When people find there are barriers to leading a sustainable life, we would encourage them to speak up and ask businesses and authorities to make changes. Just as change came quickly when people voiced opposition to the volume of straws provided in cafes and bars, it’s likely there are more people that think similarly to you. You can make a difference and now is the time to get on the front foot and improve the future for all of us.”

Mr Gulland spoke out following the launch of Zero Waste Scotland’s corporate plan in Edinburgh. The plan sets out how the organisation will transform to focus on addressing global emissions by growing the circular economy over the next four years. This will be achieved through increasing collaboration across all sectors and communities, nationally and internationally, to help the Scottish Government’s tackle the climate emergency.


Notes For Editors

  • Zero Waste Scotland exists to lead Scotland to use products and resources responsibly, focusing on where we can have the greatest impact on climate change. 
  • Using evidence and insight, our goal is to inform policy, and motivate individuals and businesses to embrace the environmental, economic, and social benefits of a circular economy. 
  • We are a not-for-profit environmental organisation, funded by the Scottish Government and European Regional Development Fund.
  • More information on all Zero Waste Scotland’s programmes can be found at https://www.zerowastescotland.org.uk/. You can also keep up to date with the latest from Zero Waste Scotland through via our social media channels: Twitter | Facebook | LinkedIn


For media enquiries contact:

Jamie MacDonald, PR Manager, Zero Waste Scotland

Email: jamie.macdonald@zerowastescotland.org.uk


Sophie Thirkell, Press Officer, Zero Waste Scotland

Mobile: 07966 284095

Email: sophie.thirkell@zerowastescotland.org.uk

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