Lease is more

16.11.10: PHIL CLARKE, chairman of the high street giant Top 2 Toe, no longer owns the shirt on his own back.

"Ownership," he said, "is a philosophical and theological dinosaur that deserves a place in the Ideas Museum alongside trepanning, trichology and tree-worship."

Clarke is reckoned to be the sixth most wealthy man in England. Yet he does not own a car, a cooker or even a pair of socks. "I lease the lot," he said, "and I feel all the richer for it."

Top 2 Toe is to scale down its retail business in favour of a wardrobe leasing service.

"It makes complete sense," Clarke said. "Top 2 Toe provides the customer with a full wardrobe of clothes ­ as many garments as she or he wants. We replace them at agreed intervals, determined by the life expectancy of the clothes, the fashion sensitivity of the individual or, in the case of children, by growth rate. We reuse, recycle or reprocess as appropriate."

EU resource management regulations already require car manufacturers and all electrical goods companies to dispose of their products at the end of their working lives. This is why so many of them favour leasing arrangements rather than outright sales. Other products will now almost certainly have to follow suit.

"In this respect," said the environment minister, Julian Browne, "a cooker, washing machine or fridge is no different from a car, or even a pair of trousers.

"The service provider undertakes to supply and maintain the equipment, which is then periodically exchanged and recycled.

"This is the most efficient and cost-effective way for manufacturers to meet their legal obligations, for the resource deficit to be cut, and for the world to take another significant step towards a zero-waste economy."

In the "throwaway society" of the 1990s resource deficits were enormous ­ it took 10 tonnes of raw materials to produce one tonne of consumer goods. At 5:1 the resource deficit still lags behind the government's target, but there are realistic hopes that it might be halved again by the mid 2020s. RG