The rising number of one-person households in England and Wales will put increased pressure on the environment, research out today revealed. People living on their own consume more energy and create more waste than individuals sharing a home which could cause an environmental crisis in the near future, according to a report published in the journal "Environment, development and sustainability".

The report's author, Dr Jo Williams, said: "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."

Government figures show the number of single-person households rose from 12% of all households in 1971 to 18% in 2001. The figure is expected to reach 38% by 2026 as people get married later in life and divorce rates rise. The report said the fastest growing segment of the single household is among those aged 25-44 and in particular, single never-married men aged 35 to 44.

It said one-person householders are the biggest consumers of energy, land and household goods. They consume 38% more products, 42% more packaging, 55% more electricity and 61% more gas per person than an individual in a four-person household.

There are ways, however, to improve the impact that the rising number of single households has on the environment. People living in older homes could be encouraged to make their homes more environmentally friendly and new homes should be built to high ecological standards.

"As part of the planned housing programme 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," said Dr Williams, who works at UCL's Barlett School of Planning.

Dr Williams added that a significant proportion of those living on their own were often single people who might enjoy living in a community which would give greater opportunity for greater sociability.

"Regretful loners who are forced into living alone by circumstances create demand for more collaborative lifestyles, such as more widespread co-housing schemes, where you have private space such as a bedroom, bathroom and kitchen but share some living and storage areas," she said. "It allows people to share household chores, goods and consume less energy." But the Home Builders' Federation is not so sure.

John Slaughter of HBF said: "For the private sector to start building this kind of communal housing, we would have to be sure that people genuinely want to live this way."

The report says that more should be done by the government to encourage people to live more space-efficiently. For example, an occupancy tax could be introduced which would be charged based on the number of people and habitable rooms in the property to encourage people to live in a more space efficient way. A relocation package could be introduced to encourage lower-income households to move into smaller properties.


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