Diagram to show the circular economy

Waste not, want not: the circular economy turning waste into a resource

Imagine a world with minimal waste, where practically everything is upcycled and reused. Where there’s no more landfill and mountainous food waste is used for biogas production. Imagine a resource efficient society with zero waste, where waste is no longer a burden, but a profitable resource. Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it.

Turning waste into a resource has far reaching benefits, both for the environment and the economy, and everyone can benefit, from corporate organisations to SME’s, local authorities to agricultural sectors, and yes, individuals too.

The good news is, we’re slowly making steps towards using resources in a more sustainable way, driven by a new action plan that incorporates waste management into the strategies of both products and services. It’s known as the circular economy and is set to revolutionise the way we tackle waste.


What is the circular economy and why is it beneficial?

First proposed as a concept back in the 1970’s, it’s an alternative to the conventional and unsustainable linear manufacturing process, where the majority of products are made, used and then disposed of at the end of their life with very little materials recycled or re-used.

The idea is to keep raw materials and products in circulation for as long as possible, making secondary resources the preferred option over primary raw materials.  A circular economy achieves this by emphasising the use of the Waste Hierarchy: prevention, repair, re-use, recycling and recovery, rather than disposal.

The benefits include:

  • Reduced environmental impact of production and consumption
  • Less waste
  • A more competitive economy
  • A practical solution to our resource problems
  • Improved resilience to changing markets
  • New job opportunities

The concept only started to gain significant weight from 2010, when former sailor Dame Ellen MacArthur became involved. She established the Ellen MacArthur Foundation to champion an economy that is restorative and regenerative. Six years on, global corporations, world leaders and celebrities have now become vocal supporters of its principals.


Helping Europe’s transition towards a circular economy

The UK government and the European Union are very much in favour of this approach, and have revised legislative proposals and waste reduction targets to help make this transition happen.  They include reducing landfill to a maximum of 10% of all waste by 2030 and targets for recycling packaging and municipal waste of 75% and 65% respectively by 2030.

Their proposals are ambitious and it won’t happen overnight. To achieve these targets, we will be required to make significant changes in the way that we design both products and packaging, and how we decide to handle and manage them and all the waste that our products and services produce. We will need to rethink how we implement new business models, new technologies for recycling, and of course, changes in consumer behaviour.

At the heart of this revolution is the resource management industry. To make the transition will require a new way of thinking that goes beyond recycling by embracing prevention, reuse and refurbishment practices. Products will need to be designed for eventual recycling, once the preferred waste management options presented in the Waste Hierarchy (prevention and re-use) have been considered and used.

A circular economy will help to deliver a much more efficient and competitive UK economy, creating more jobs; generating sustainable growth and an energy and resource efficient community. It hopes to achieve this by revolutionising self-sufficiency and the implementation of industrial symbiosis; where companies realise that what is waste to them could be used as a raw material by someone else, thus preventing the need to enter new raw materials into the supply chain, helping to reduce our ecological and carbon footprint in the process.


The different phases of the circular economy

A circular economy can be broken down into several stages: production, consumption, waste management and secondary raw materials.


Production and consumption

Under the Ecodesign Directive, the European Commission will support the introduction of smart production design and improved processes at production stage, which will help save resources, make waste management more efficient and create new business opportunities. To ensure producers make products that can be easily recycled and reused, financial incentives will be introduced.

The environmental impact and financial savings are key to encouraging the uptake of sustainable products and services. Reusing and repairing products to extend their life has both financial gains and reduced waste gains. Products will need to be durable and repairable if they are to deliver substantial benefits to consumers.

Businesses will also benefit from resource efficient, recyclable products. Products and services that are supportive of the circular economy will lead to an increase in new business opportunities and new jobs, particularly in the design and repair sectors.


Waste management and secondary raw materials

Who’d have thought that waste could become a valuable resource? In a circular economy, secondary raw materials have huge potential, reducing environmental impact and production costs.

Trading in these materials is an underdeveloped market; it requires improvements to waste management practices and improved quality standards. Currently only 25% of waste material from SME’s is resold, climbing to 45% for larger companies.


Waste management and environmental impacts

Did you know that just 40% of waste produced by EU households is recycled? Around 600 million tonnes of lost waste materials could potentially be reused or recycled.

New waste management proposals will also help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. By 2035, more than 500 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions could be prevented: indirectly through the recycling of materials which would usually be extracted and processed, and directly by reducing landfills leading to a cut in associated emissions.

To find out more about the European Commission’s Circular Economy strategy launched in December 2015, please visit http://ec.europa.eu/environment/circular-economy/


How Environmental Energies can help  

From reducing the impact on the environment to creating economic opportunities for businesses, we can all benefit from a circular economy approach to waste management.

Environmental Energies will work with you to find the best solution to help you reduce waste, whether it’s converting organic waste into a biomass fuel source or measures to re-introduce the product into an alternative market for re-use.

We offer waste solutions bespoke to the customer’s waste product. To find out more, you can email sales@environmentalenergies.co.uk or give us a callon 01858 525 407.

Posted March 23, 2016