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Lifestyle Scenarios: The Futures for Waste Composition - WR0104

The way in which households organise their lives, respond to new fashions and technologies, and then consume different products – their ‘lifestyles’- underpins the nature of the waste they generate. Yet there remains a knowledge gap of how fundamental, long-term change in lifestyles feeds through into household waste composition and, subsequently, required treatment approaches. Looking forward 20 years, will ready meals and home makeovers continue their ascendancy, for example? Will climate change mean less or more organic waste? Will sustainable production and consumption radically change what consumers throw away?

To answer these, and other fundamental questions, the proposed research will develop a range of formal ‘lifestyle scenarios’ at national level to explore how the future may differ from the present. The research will establish how alternative versions of the future could change the materials that households throw away, and therefore overall MSW composition.

The findings will help Defra and waste authorities throughout the country to anticipate medium and long term risks to current waste management approaches, including the imminent wave of new investment in processing infrastructure. The scenarios can also be used to raise awareness and focus debate about alternative directions for MSW, as stakeholders respond to the review of Waste Strategy 2000.
We are proposing a sequential approach involving five self-contained research phases, each with a specific objective and output. The findings of one phase feed into and set the framework for the next phase. This approach allows us to build up systematically towards quantified composition scenarios. Each of the phases identified comprises a research ‘objective’ for the purposes of the research plan set out under (11a) below.The sequence of objectives is as follows:

1. Phase 1 – Review lifestyle trends and drivers. The objective of this phase is to draw together in one place the existing evidence and data on lifestyle trends and anticipated futures, and summarise the evidence from existing research on how lifestyles and consumption affect household waste composition. Outputs will be a working paper and meeting with Defra to discuss results and next steps.

2. Phase 2 – Prepare initial lifestyle scenarios. The objective here is to develop an outline framework for four lifestyle scenarios that can then be discussed with Defra and tested in individual interviews with selected experts, before individual lifestyle dimensions and composition implications of future lifestyles are quantified.

3. Phase 3 – Develop lifestyle scenarios and quantify key dimensions. In this phase the research team will complete the lifestyle scenarios - including quantification of key dimensions and fully developed, internally consistent storylines – and obtain stakeholder feedback. This will provide the basis for identifying waste composition and policy implications in Phase 4.

4. Phase 4 – Assess and quantify implications for waste composition and policy. The objective here is to develop and quantify the implications of the completed lifestyle scenarios for future waste composition - with four variations consistent with the scenarios - and to compile a final report and recommendations.

5. Phase 5 – Deliver dissemination seminars and communicate results. This final phase will be devoted to dissemination of the results to a wide audience of stakeholders, including four regional seminars organised by the Resource Recovery Forum.

The research is also conceived as an iterative process, whereby the client team (Defra and a Steering Group if appointed) and external stakeholders have an opportunity to provide feedback on results and input ideas at key points. We see this feedback as an integral and important part of the research method.

The sequential approach that we propose means that each objective is dependent upon the successful completion of the previous phase of work. Each individual objective in Phases 1-4 above is therefore essential to achieving the primary objective of the project, that is creation of lifestyle-driven waste composition scenarios. We believe that the dissemination activity proposed in Phase 5 is also essential since the scenarios could be used by a wide range of stakeholders in their forward planning of strategy and management for municipal waste.
Project Documents
• Final Report : Lifestyle Scenarios: the Futures for Waste Composition   (1962k)
• Abstract : Lifestyle Scenarios: the Futures for Waste Composition   (333k)
• Final Report - Annex : Lifestyle Scenarios: the Futures for Waste Composition   (2337k)
Time-Scale and Cost
From: 2005

To: 2008

Cost: £139,100
Contractor / Funded Organisations
Brook Lyndhurst
Environmental Protection              
Establishing a sound database for waste management              
Policy Development              
Sustainable Consumption and Production              
Sustainable Resource Consumption and Management              
Understanding resource flows              
Understanding waste composition and trends              
Waste Management              
Fields of Study
Waste Management