UK uses 33% less stuff than in 2001

CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 United Nations Photo

IKEA made headlines when it openly mused about Western economies "reaching peak stuff", but they are by no means the only folks who think that our seemingly insatiable appetite for more and more stuff might finally be leveling out.

New figures from the UK's Office for National Statistics (ONS) suggest that the amount of raw materials consumed by the UK economy fell from 15 tonne per person in 2001 to just over 10 tonnes in 2013.

That's a pretty astounding drop.

True, there was this tiny thing called The Great Recession between then and now. But still, such a huge decrease in everything from steel to plastics to fuel and biomass suggests that something bigger (or maybe smaller?) is going on. Over at The Guardian, Patrick Collinson takes a deeper dive into the numbers, noting among other things that the digitization of industries such as music, movies and more has led to a large decrease in raw materials within those industries. And also that industry has gotten better about using less material for each product created.

That said, there are those who say the numbers are misleading. Pointing out that UK consumers recently went on a car buying binge, and that sales at cut-price stores like Primark look as healthy as ever, Collinson talks to some who suggest that consumption has simply shifted to overseas producers. Yet the ONS does aim to factor in imports too. (Not accounting for imports and exports, the per capita consumption figure would have been 8.9 tonnes.)

Statistics being statistics, there are bound to be plenty of people more qualified than myself debating over the exact numbers. Still, I can't help feeling that whether-or-not we have reached peak stuff is perhaps less important than the fact that it is perfectly possible to do so. From the digitization of music and movies to the rise of bike sharing and the popularity of low-stuff urban lifestyles, we now have the tools at our disposal to build on such trends.

I argued before that talking of Peak Stuff as an inevitability was a distraction, but embracing it as a goal is worthy as hell.

Tags: Activism | Consumerism | Economics | Living With Less | Waste


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