PhoneBloks design for a modular upgradeable phone

This design for a modular, easily upgradeable phone by PhoneBloks attracted almost a million supporters on crowd-promoting website ThunderClap

How climate policy can cut waste and save resources

We are used to hearing about energy efficiency, but material efficiency is just as important. More than half of all greenhouse gas emissions come from making material goods - cars, houses, clothes, phones, food and so on. At the same time, many of the resources we depend on are becoming scarce and expensive, from rare metals to fertile land and fresh water. 

By designing waste out of our economies, we can not only slash greenhouse gas emissions but also:

Greenhouse gases from production of material goods

Around 60% of greenhouse gas emissions in 2001 were from making material goods, food and infrastructure1

Just recycling isn't good enough. We need to design waste out right from the start of the production process, by creating products that are durable and upgradeable, and using low-impact materials that are recycled or recyclable. We need to repair and re-use as much as possible. We need to avoid generating waste in the first place, by not buying more than we need and by minimising packaging.


There are very few conflicts, although some low-carbon technologies such as solar panels use a range of rare metals such as gallium and indium. The key solution is to maximise recycling and re-use of the equipment.

Key messages

To get rid of waste, we need to change the economic framework that encourages a throwaway society. We need to ensure that the market prices of material goods reflect their full environmental costs, and we need to end perverse government subsidies that encourage extraction of more raw materials. 

One option is to use the revenue from a carbon tax to reduce labour taxes  such as national insurance contributions. This should make material goods more expensive but labour cheaper, so that it is cheaper to pay a craftsman to repair an item  than to throw it away and buy a new one. In an era where material resources are scarce but unemployment is a serious problem, it makes sense to subsidise employment rather than to subsidise material prices.

Links to other co-benefits pages