Why do Danes use more of the planet’s resources than most?

This year, Denmark's Earth Overshoot Day fell on March 16th. It was the day when we had consumed the resources that are due to us if our planet is to regenerate them before the end of the year. We are among the most resource-consuming nations in the world.

Danes' private and public consumption of materials and resources is three times higher than what is considered a sustainable consumption. Photo: Colourbox
Professor and Head of Department Claus Hélix-Nielsen stands here in the new research building at Lyngby Campus, which will support research into recycling and utilization of residual resources such as waste, animal manure, industrial residues, building waste and wastewater. Photo: Joachim Rode


  • The report was made by the Dutch consultancy firm Circle Economy at the request of DTU, DI, the Danish Industry Foundation, IDA, the Danish Technological Institute, Danish Design Center, and Lifestyle & Design Cluster.
  • This is the first time that such a report has been created for Denmark.
  • The report was published in the summer of 2023.

Download the report at Circle Economy Foundation.


  • Earth Overshoot Day is the day when we have used all the resources we can afford this year if we are not to exceed the Earth's biocapacity.
  • To be in a sustainable balance, the date should fall on December 31 - or later.
  • The dates are calculated by the think tank Global Footprint Network, which since 2003 has calculated the ecological footprint of the global community to highlight the extent of our exploitation of the Earth's resources.
  • This year, Denmark's Earth Overshoot Day fell on March 16 - about a month earlier than the other Nordic countries.
  • Only five other nations in the world consume more than Denmark, including Qatar, USA and Canada.

See all countries' Earth Overshoot Day.

Why are we so bad at being circular?

I think it is simply because we have not been forced to be circular. We live in the spoiled part of the world where living standards are high and where we can buy new materials and products whenever we need them. Necessity has not yet pushed us to reuse more things and recycle more materials.

How can we become more circular?

Unfortunately, there is no quick fix here that we can just implement and then carry on as we always have. To become more circular, we need to do much more than just improve our waste management.

Among other things, we need to rethink the way we design products so they will have a longer lifespan and are easier to repair, and so the materials are ultimately easier to recycle and use in new products.

The solutions developed must not create new unintended problems elsewhere. For example, if resources are used to create a comprehensive infrastructure for collecting rainwater in cities, we need to ensure that the collected water, which may contain contaminants, does not pollute the aquatic environment and thus our water resources.

We need to think about the big picture. This will require solutions developed with participation from different professional domains. This means that professionals who do not currently work together will have to come together more often.

Who is responsible?

In principle, we all have a responsibility. We all need to change our behaviour, and we all need be more critical of our resource consumption - privately, in companies, and in the public sector. But if Denmark is to succeed in creating a circular economy, we need politicians to draw up a comprehensive and ambitious strategy.

I miss the sense of urgency that we experienced during the pandemic. It showed that we as a society have an impressive ability to adapt overnight. We need to activate the same adaptability again. We simply cannot continue to consume and discard as we do now. We need to make significant changes to our practices, otherwise future generations will have no place to live.


  • In Denmark, we consume the equivalent of 24.5 tonnes of virgin materials per capita every year.
  • The EU average is 17.8 tonnes per capita.
  • The global average consumption of virgin materials is 11.9 tonnes per capita.
  • Sustainable consumption is estimated at 8 tonnes per capita.

Source: The Circularity Gap Report Denmark


Claus Hélix-Nielsen

Claus Hélix-Nielsen Professor, Head of Department Department of Environmental and Resource Engineering Phone: +45 45252228 Mobile: +4591370064