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ESA says circular economy will create £10bn of investment

Designing for recovery could help an extra 140 million tonnes of waste be recycled by 2020 and create a £1.4bn boost to the UK economy, a ESA report says.

The ESA estimates that otherwise, on current rates, only about 255 million tonnes will be recycled by 2020.

The ESA’s ‘Going for Growth’ report highlights the need to rethink design for the recovery of materials, and calls for “a return to first principles” of design.

For example, the report notes that the Google Nexus tablet is easier to disassemble and recycle than its rival, the iPad, because its components are screwed together and the iPad’s are glued.

ESA chairman David Palmer-Jones, said around “80% of the environmental impact of a product is determined at design stage”.

The report recommended ways that the waste and recycling sector can work with designers to improve the recyclability of products, including putting forward experts to advise designers.

Palmer-Jones said: “If we work together to change the way products are designed, we can avoid the current trend of a third of potentially recyclable material being lost to the economy. This is vital for resource efficiency and security, and to reduce environmental impacts including greenhouse gas emissions.”

MRW reported that a key design expert urged designers to visit recyclers to understand how to design out waste last month. WRAP and Labour have also recently called for business to design out waste.

Sophie Thomas, co-director for design for the RSA, said this month there were four key design models for the circular economy: longevity, service, reuse in manufacture and materials recovery.

‘Move from abstract level’

The report also said pursuing the circular economy could result in net exports of more than £20bn, attract £10bn of investment and boost the UK GDP by £3bn.

It could also generate 50,000 new jobs, 10,000 of which would be in the recycling sector, by 2020.

Speaking at a conference launching the report, Palmer-Jones said: “It’s time to move away from the abstract level by which the circular economy is often portrayed.”

Also speaking at the event were Mike Barry, head of sustainability at M&S, and James Walker, head of innovation at Kingfisher UK, who both highlighted the business case for shifting to a circular economy by pointing out the rising costs of raw materials.

“Our B&Q plastic bucket has been 99p for all its life as I remember,” said Walker. “It’s now £1.50. Why? Because the cost of the plastics has gone up. That was a hard, bitter pill for the company to swallow.”

Call for Government intervention

Speakers also urged more Government intervention would be essential to develop the potential of the circular economy.

WRAP chief executive Liz Goodwin said: “It is clear that there is a role for Government here. We need a business environment where production of quality recycled material in the UK makes sense.”

Barry said that Government intervention should come in the form of incentives, rather than taxation, and that the best approach would be to set targets but give businesses freedom to choose which measures implement to achieve them.

Readers' comments (1)

  • It's good to see the ESA getting on board with this and making a real contribution to the debate. It reminds me of where we were with recycling 10 years ago. Lots of people were recognising that we could and should do more of it, but making it happen required someone to sit down and work out where the market failures were and how to align the value flows so that everyone who had a part to play could get enough from the process to cover their costs/risks.

    We have made good progress on recycling. This is harder, but it also brings a lot of major new players into the action. It can be made to work but now it needs people to start putting their hands up to do the work.

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