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The Waste & Resources Action Programme (Wrap) claims that overcoming our obsession with owning goods could be a “secret weapon” in meeting climate change targets.

It has called for a fifth of all household spending, £148 billion out of an annual total of £732 billion, to be converted to renting by 2020. In a report published today the watchdog calls for the transformation of a large part of the retail sector into a service industry specialising in renting goods, with each item used by many different people during its lifetime.

Wrap identifies five categories of goods suitable for renting: high-end clothing; glassware and tableware; tools and equipment for house and garden; vehicles; and telephone, audio and recreational equipment. On clothing, the report proposes that hiring should replace 10 per cent of the retail market within ten years.

Liz Goodwin, Wrap’s chief executive, said: “It could be quite liberating and free our homes and garages from all that clutter that we rarely use. By hiring, we can also get better party dresses and handbags or a better drill to do some DIY than we would be willing to buy. “Why would anyone want to own that many things anyway?

We need to have the confidence that we can get things when we need them but we don’t need to have them sitting beside us every day.” Ms Goodwin, who said she owned only one evening dress in her “pitifully small wardrobe”, said people needed to understand the environmental cost of ownership. “I hope that, in the future, we will look back and be glad that we have moved on from the day when we felt we needed umpteen pairs of shoes,” she said.

The report, based on research by York University, calculates that better use of resources could deliver 10 per cent of the carbon dioxide savings that Britain has legally committed to making by 2020.

Shifting a fifth of household spending from purchasing to renting would cut emissions by about 2 per cent, or 13 million tonnes of CO2 a year, through a fall in manufacturing and lower consumption of raw materials. A Wrap official said that there would be no net loss of jobs in Britain because most goods were manufactured overseas. He said that positions lost in retailing would be balanced by jobs gained in a greatly expanded rental industry.

He also said that there would be additional greenhouse gas savings — not calculated in the report — from reducing the size of homes because people would not need as much storage space.

The report says that 20 per cent of the market for tools could shift from purchasing to hiring by 2020 and up to 90 per cent by 2050. On vehicles, it says renting could account for 20 per cent of the market by 2020 and 50 to 90 per cent by 2050.

The report identifies £143 billion of annual expenditure on goods that could have been used for longer. It says that clothing is only being used, on average, for 66 per cent of its potential lifespan. Using items for their full lifespan would save consumers £47 billion a year, it claims.

Wrap also calls for changes in diet to reduce emissions from livestock. Its report says: “The UK diet is currently too high in meat, dairy, high-fat and sugary foods and too low in fruit and vegetable intake.” It suggests that households could cut consumption of meat and dairy products by 25 per cent by 2020 and by 50 to 75 per cent by 2050. Hilary Benn, the Environment Secretary, will attend a Wrap conference today at the Royal Society in London, where the report will be published.

He said: “In the UK, we have just over 3 per cent of the global market [for low-carbon goods and services]. This will grow as consumers become increasingly environmentally aware and companies realise that waste is just a resource in another form and that sustainability is the key not only to the environment but to business success.”

 
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