Earth Overshoot Day and Ecological Debt

Today is Earth Overshoot Day: the tipping point in the calendar where human beings have used up 100% of this year’s supply of resources.

Having ‘overshot’ our usage, we are now in ecological debt – meaning that every resource we ‘spend’ for the rest of the year is in the red.

It’s unsustainable, as we’ve outstripped the planet’s ability to regenerate what we’re using this year. That’s why recycling matters more than ever.

What is an ‘overshoot’?

The term comes from population studies. An ‘overshoot’ occurs when the demands of population exceed the environment’s ability to provide resources.

The Global Footprint Network calculates Earth Overshoot Day every year to show the point at which human resource use has become unsustainable – and the trend displays a problem. We’re getting into ecological debt earlier each year.

Humanity lived within the ‘budget’ of the Earth’s natural resources until around 1970, when Earth Overshoot Day was December 23rd

But since then, our use of resources has only increased. Our carbon footprint has more than doubled since the early 1970s – as has the world’s population, from 3.6 billion people in 1970 to 7.4 billion people in 2016.

We’re depleting our resources far faster than they are being renewed, and every year, we’re doing it more quickly, through overfishing, deforestation, food waste, pollution and other human-made problems.

In 1980, for example, Earth Overshoot Day was November 2nd – meaning that within ten years of the first Earth Overshoot Day, we were going into resource debt six weeks earlier. Earth Overshoot Day has crept up the calendar every year since then. It was October 13th in 1990 and October 4th in 2000, but by 2010, it had leapt to August 28th.

In 2016, we went into ecological debt on August 8th.

This year, Earth Overshoot Day is August 2nd.

Next year, we may well have used up our year’s worth of resources in July.

What can we do about it?

Our resource use has been accelerating, but as people become more aware of the problem, we are taking steps to cut waste and increase our sustainability.

Governments around the world are implementing legislation to help combat resource waste.

Companies, too, are doing their bit – through corporate social responsibility programmes and a greater understanding of how their resource use impacts both on the environment and on their own finances. 

At DS Smith, our vision is to be the leading provider of sustainable packaging solutions. The Recycling Division work with our customers to implement sustainable waste management, too – encouraging zero waste initiatives  and implementing our Supply Cycle Thinking.

‘Supply Cycle Thinking’ is the way we encourage our customers to look at their ‘supply chain’ in a more efficient, circular manner . Thinking in ‘chains’ encourages people to see materials as having a ‘start’ and ‘end’ point, being thrown away when they are no longer useful. Supply Cycle Thinking is a system where no materials are lost, because products and business models are designed to ensure a continuous recycling loop of quality resources.

By seeing our relationship with resources as cyclical, rather than ‘use and lose’, we can all help to promote the sustainability of our economies – and stop using up our biological capacity before the Earth has a chance to replenish its resources.