Trend: Overstretched – Finding Solutions for a Resource Constrained World

21-08-2020

 

Earth Overshoot Day is the day when humans use more ecological resources than the earth can regenerate in that year. It is a sign that we are moving closer to an environmental crisis. Earth Overshoot Day has got progressively earlier, from 29 December in 1970 to 29 July in 2019.

Humanity’s overuse of the earth’s resources is unsustainable.

This year, the trend has reversed and Earth Overshoot Day will be on 22 August. This is due to the siesmic changes wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic caused governments worldwide to impose measures which shut shops and restaurants and instructed citizens to stop travelling and work from home. It grounded planes and shuttered businesses. The ceasing of these activities reduced pollution and resource use.

The BBC reports that, “In China, emissions fell 25% at the start of the year as people were instructed to stay at home, factories shuttered and coal use fell by 40% at China’s six largest power plants since the last quarter of 2019.”

This unpredicted change has pushed Earth Overshoot Day back to August this year, still far too soon but better than would have been predicted previously.

An Increase in Packaging and Medical Waste

Of course, there were adverse environmental effects of the global shutdown as well. Disposable plastic use rose as restaurants pivoted to take-away food, coffee shops stop accepting reusable cups and people used more antibacterial wipes. We’ve also seen a startling rise in medical waste (masks, gloves, etc), much of which is not recyclable.

While there is not yet a clear consensus on whether the positive environmental outcome of the COVID-19 pandemic will outweight the negatives, it is clear that a global pandemic is not a solution to our overuse of resources. We need to think longterm and act immediately.

Time is Running Out for Biodiversity

One of the many adverse effects of humanity’s overuse of resources is the significant damage which has been done to biodiversity. The figures are stark and without a concerted global effort to change the way we live they will only get worse.

We can see a snapshot of how desperate the situation is in these figures from the IPBES Global Assessment report.

  • 75% of the land surface is now significantly altered by humanity
  • Marine plastic pollution has increased tenfold since 1980
  • Across much of the highly biodiverse tropics, 32 million hectares of primary or recovering forest were lost between 2010 and 2015
  • Over 85% of wetland (by area) has been lost

Although some animals have adapted to live alongside humans, this is not possible (or desirable) for all species and is certainly not the answer. The footprint of humanity is increasing; we take up more space as we tear down ancient woodland to build roads and suburbs and raze jungle to grow crops.

A Loss of Biodiversity Brings Danger to Humanity

Some scientists are pointing to a link between the loss of biodiversity and new viruses and diseases such as COVID-19. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that three-quarters of new or emerging diseases that infect humans originate in animals. The coronavirus is thought to have originated in a wet market in Wuhan, China, that sold a variety of wild animals, both living and dead.

David Quammen, author of Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Pandemic, recently wrote in the New York Times, “We invade tropical forests and other wild landscapes, which harbour so many species of animals and plants – and within those creatures, so many unknown viruses. We cut the trees; we kill the animals or cage them and send them to markets. We disrupt ecosystems, and we shake viruses loose from their natural hosts. When that happens, they need a new host. Often, we are it.”

We can clearly see that a loss of biodiversity and overuse of the planet’s resources is a danger to humans as well as animals.

Changing the Way We Do Business

What we need is real, sustainable change to the way we live, shop and do business. We need to focus on trade that is sustainable, trade that can be supported by our planet. Simply put, we need to live within our means.

One way that we can begin to make these kinds of changes is by moving towards a circular economy. The idea behind the circular economy is that, instead of turning raw materials into products and eventually waste, we would close that line into a loop, keeping products and materials in use. By designing long-lasting products that can be repaired or recycled we can drastically reduce or even eliminate waste and pollution.

What Does This Trend Mean for amfori Members?

A growing pressure on resources, combined with policies to mitigate these pressures is likely to trigger changes in the way products are designed, manufactured, distributed and disposed of.

Changes towards a less resource-hungry economic model can already be seen. Assuming that it is agreed by EU member states and the European parliament, the EU’s “right to repair” law will compell manufacturers of phones, tablets and laptops to make their products easier to repair and reuse.

Implementation of the circular economy could have major consequences for global supply chains, limiting the flow of new products and imports and increasing maintenance, repair and recycling activities in countries of consumption.

amfori members can be active and vocal leaders towards a more sustainable future. Members can use amfori BEPI to work towards reducing the environmental impact of their supply chains. amfori BEPI also helps members to reduce their resource use, thereby lightening the burden they place on the earth’s resources.

In parallel, by implementing recycling, repair, verified resale and resource reduction schemes, you and your organisation can lead the way and be a positive example for other companies.