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Taking small steps towards a more sustainable future

A blog post by Georgina Massouraki

With COP26 coming to a close in Glasgow this week, the climate emergency has rightly dominated agendas, media and news feeds worldwide. Terms like ‘emission reductions’, ‘decarbonisation’, ‘net zero’ and the elusive 1.5°C target are becoming mainstream, with the energy, transport, waste and food sectors in the spotlight. But there is one thing that underpins all of the above and that arguably has gotten us into this mess in the first place, and that is the way that we consume.

Throughout our history, humans have sought to improve our living conditions and quality of life. We’ve built tools and technologies to enhance our abilities and access more resources and, at some point along the line, started pursuing growth for growth’s sake. In the process, we have grown accustomed to consuming ever more, faster and cheaper.

For those of us living in the ‘developed’ world, consumption is now a cornerstone of daily life, with high expectations for variety, affordability and convenience at every turn. But the carbon emissions, pollution, habitat destruction and mountains of waste that this creates are sending an uncomfortable message that is increasingly hard to ignore: we are consuming too much and we are doing so in a linear fashion that is simply not sustainable.

The crucial question is this: Can we ever go back?

The change required is systemic and transformative. Realistically, it can only happen in small incremental steps. We need strong leadership from above, with bold targets, commitments, policies, strategies and action plans. And we also need everyone to play their part.

Zero Waste Scotland estimates that around 80% of Scotland’s carbon footprint comes from the stuff that we consume. Scotland is taking important steps towards addressing this, with initiatives like the Deposit Return Scheme and the Circular Economy Bill that was planned before the pandemic. Just yesterday the Scottish Government introduced regulations that will see Scotland ban some of the most environmentally damaging single-use plastic items form June 2022. Industry and retailers are stepping up to lead the way with new technologies and approaches for solving the problem. And of course, all of these solutions also rely on us, the consumers, to make good use of them.

The UK’s Climate Change Committee estimates that 60% of the country’s emission reduction targets involve some kind of behaviour change. In other words, in order to change our system we also need to change how we as individuals do things and what we expect. Can we voluntarily forego the abundance and convenience that we’ve grown accustomed to? What will it take to curb our insatiable appetite for stuff?

Our Cup Movement in Glasgow campaign was a case study in grappling with these issues. By bringing together everyone involved in the production, supply, retail, consumption and waste management of cups, we sought solutions to a very small and specific yet symbolic aspect of modern consumption: the take-away, single-use cup.

Single-use cups are designed to be wasted. They save on space and washing up for retailers and allow us, the consumers, the convenience and treat of a hot drink to take away with us whilst going about our busy days. They are as ubiquitous as the coffee culture they are part of, with an estimated 500 million of them used and discarded in Scotland each year. They are hard -but not impossible- to recycle. And they are also easy to eliminate, in theory, through the use of reusable alternatives. So, by making a concerted and focused effort, we can make a difference.

Although Cup Movement was put on hold by the pandemic in March 2020, in the run-up to COP26 we re-activated one of its key interventions. Solutions for cup reuse and recycling are now readily available in 106 Glasgow coffee chain stores so can we reduce cup waste by getting people to use them?

As world leaders and delegates leave Glasgow after seeking a way forward for addressing climate change, are we prepared to play our part and start to make simple changes to the consumption habits we’ve grown accustomed to?  If you’re in Glasgow, challenge yourself to support our #ChooseToReuse or #TakeItBack initiative and help take a small step towards more sustainable consumption, starting with single-use cups.

To find out more, visit the '#ChooseToReuse or #TakeItBack' intervention web page.

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