Report: Planet facing consumption time bomb

The world will be sitting on a ‘consumption time bomb’ by 2030 unless efforts to recycle raw materials are increased.

That’s one of the main findings in the Towards The Circular Economy report, produced by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, which calls for a greater focus on designing products to be used again.

The global middle class is projected to double from 1.9 billion in 2009 to 4.9 billion in 2030, and researchers warn this will lead to huge demand for manufactured goods.

“Consumer demand from emerging economics has the potential to exponentially increase the use of materials, bring about dramatic rises in input costs and result in hard to manage commodity volatility,” it reads.

MacArthur says her experiences as a round-the-world sailor informed her decision to promote recycling

Almost 90% of this growth is expected to come from the Asia Pacific region, in particular China and India. Both countries are aggressively sourcing hydrocarbons and metals inside and outside their national borders.

The report calls on governments and business to invest in developing a ‘Circular Economy’, where goods at the end of their lifecycle are dismantled and introduced back into the production line.

Only 20% of consumer goods are used again – with an estimated $2.6 trillion worth of materials heading to incinerators, landfill or wastewater.

Researchers say the full potential of the circular economy could be $700 billion in consumer goods material savings by 2030.

Speaking to CNN, Ellen MacArthur said her experiences as a round-the-world sailor had made her rethink how products could be reused, even when their primary function had expired.

“When I set off around the world – the two times that I went – I took with me the minimum I needed for my survival,” she said.

“Food and fuel for the generator, and you manage those resources down to the last drop, as you’re miles away from the nearest shop with no support vessel.

“That notion of finite when you have no more, I translated to the global economy – it is driven by taking materials out of the ground, making something and then throwing it away.

“This is absolutely driven by economics. There is a massive economic opportunity to be taken without waiting for government legislation and changes. Companies can do it and many are.”

MacArthur also revealed she is launching a new business alliance in February called the Circular Economy 100, a platform for 100 pioneering businesses to accelerate the transition to a circular economy over a 1,000-day innovation period.

INFOGRAPHIC: What is the world facing in 2030?

Estimate based on the comparison of low-income countries or population segment (e.g., India) and middle/high income countries and segments (e.g., US) SOURCE: World Bank. Ellen MacArthur Foundation circular economy team

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