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Circular economy could boost GDP by £2.9bn a year

The UK could boost its gross domestic product (GDP) by £2.9bn a year if it “fully embraced the circular economy”, a study has found.

Independent research from Imperial College London (ICL), commissioned by Veolia, has found that using entirely recycled resources and moving to a service- rather than product-based economy could increase GDP by 0.18% annually.

The most substantial saving outlined in the report was £2.4bn through reprocessing and recycling household, commercial and industrial materials. Other savings included:

  • £0.3bn by moving from a product- to a service-based economy
  • £0.2bn of landfill tax
  • £0.1bn through energy from waste
  • £0.1bn value from unwanted chemicals

The existing £0.2bn contribution of the waste management sector to the circular economy was deducted from the savings.

The Circular Revolution report also estimated that 175,000 jobs would be created, almost 10% of UK unemployment, with particular opportunities for growth from plastics recycling.

It noted that the waste management sector has grown economically, due to an increasing value of resources, while the scale has fallen in terms of tonnages.  

Estelle Brachlianoff

Estelle Brachlianoff (left), Veolia senior executive vice-president UK and Ireland, said: “Businesses need to wake up to the unsustainable nature of our throwaway economy and put more value on resources.

“This report highlights how a transition to a circular economy has the potential to add 1.8% to our GDP over a 10-year period. The findings have exceeded our expectations – even if we achieved only a 50% shift this would add £15bn to the country’s economic output.”   

Leading author of the research Dr Nick Voulvoulis, from the centre for environmental policy at ICL, said: “The report goes beyond resource and energy efficiency; it also includes closing the loop between resource extraction, production and disposal, moving towards the provisions of services, where materials are valued differently; creating a more robust economy in the process.”

The analysis focused on recouping value from househould, commercial and industrial materials, which amounts to 30% of UK resources according to 2012 Eurostat data.

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