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People who live alone are the biggest consumers of energy, land and household goods—from toothbrushes to appliances—and their solo lifestyles are creating an environmental time bomb, according to researchers at the University College, London.

In a report published in the journal Environment, Development and Sustainability, researchers conclude that the dramatic increase in the number of younger, more affluent people living alone is likely to cause a resource consumption crisis in England and Wales—and their findings should serve as a serious warning to other nations.

One-person Households Increasing Rapidly

“Current trends show that one-person households are growing more rapidly than other types of household,” said Dr. Jo Williams, UCL Bartlett School of Planning, in a university press release. “Previously, the typical one-person householder was the widow, often on a tight budget and thrifty.

The rise in younger, wealthier one-person households is having an increasingly serious impact on the environment.”

The number of one-person households in the UK has increased significantly over the last 30 years—from 18 percent of all households in 1971 to 30 percent in 2001. Experts believe that the figure will rise to 38 per cent—more than a third of all households—by 2026.

One-person Households Consume More Resources

According to the research, people who live in one-person households are the biggest consumers of energy, land and household goods—such as washing machines, refrigerators, televisions and stereos—per capita.

They consume 38 percent more products, 42 percent more packaging, 55 percent more electricity and 61 percent more gas per capita than four-person households.

In households of four or more, each person produces 1,000 kilograms of waste annually, while those living alone create a massive 1,600 kilograms of waste each year. One-person households also produce more carbon dioxide per person.

The typical one-person household no longer occupied by an elderly widow or widower. The fastest growth in one-person householders is among people between the ages of 25 and 44, particularly among men aged 35 to 44 who have never married.

Every week, these relatively young single men spend 39 percent more on household goods than one-person householders over age 60. And every year, they consume 13 percent more energy and use 6 percent more space than their older counterparts.

Alternatives to One-person Households

According to the report, the trend toward more one-person households using a disproportionate share of precious resources must be countered by providing environmentally friendly lifestyle choices, such as collective housing and ecological homes.

“The rise in one-person households is expected to account for 72 per cent of annual household growth between 2003 and 2026 according to government statistics,” Williams said.

“This means that, as part of the planned housing program for England and Wales, there is a real opportunity to house this group in ecological new builds that are prestigious, well-designed, state-of-the-art and environmentally sound.”

Williams said that people who live alone because of circumstance and not by choice might be interested in more collaborative lifestyles, such as co-housing alternatives in which residents have some private space, such as a bedroom and bathroom, but share living and storage areas.

Co-housing residents also typically share household chores such as cooking and gardening, and household goods such as tools and appliances, thus consuming less energy per person than people who live alone.

Reducing Environmental Impacts of One-person Households

The report urges the British government to introduce an occupancy tax on the inefficient use of space, and suggests designing and constructing more resource-efficient ecological homes. The researchers point out that one-person households are now wealthier than ever and, with the right advertising and a greater understanding of the problem, may be willing to invest in more environmentally friendly homes and products.

The researchers also advocate raising public awareness and encouraging more people to choose collective and collaborative lifestyle options through the use of relocation packages, educational programs and advertising campaigns to help reduce the future environmental impact of one-person households.

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