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Lobby group says recycling is failing

Recycling should be the “last resort” if we are to move to a circular economy according to an influential lobby group.

The sustainable business alliance, the Aldersgate Group, said high and volatile commodity prices make a shift to new circular business models a necessity.

Aldersgate’s new report, Resilience in the Round, says end of life recycling “is clearly failing to deliver the step change in resource efficiency that we need”. It adds: “The circular economy seeks to provide a model to decouple economic progress from resource constraints in a way that inspires innovation throughout the whole value chain, rather than relying solely on the waste recycling end of the market.”

Speaking at the launch of the report at the Base London sustainable business conference, Steve Wallace Aldersgate group director, said the circular economy is not “just getting better at recycling; that just delays the inevitable”.

Co-author of the report and Aldersgate executive director Andrew Raingold said resource efficiency is becoming a key element of economic success. He explained: “Last year almost a third of all profit warnings from the FTSE-350 were attributed to rising commodity prices.”

“The transition to a circular economy which eliminates waste and optimises the use of valuable materials provides a number of economic opportunities. It will lead to a more resilient UK economy and provide a number of local jobs for remanufacturing and new services.”

The report outlines a series of “enablers” or interventions by business, politicians and consumers at the early stage of product and business model development. They include:

  • Design: 80% of a product’s environment al impact is locked in at the design stage.
  • New business models: A new contract between business and customers based on access and product performance rather than ownership.
  • Produce collection and reuse: Infrastructure to support collection of used products – reverse cycles.
  • System changes: Incentives to drive circular economy approaches.

It asks whether there is a need for the national waste strategy to be replaced with a national resource strategy based on circular economy principles, and a more strategic approach to “close loops” at a societal level rather than within individual companies.

In a feature on the circular economy for the next issue of MRW Paul Levett of LRS Consultancy writes: “To generate the circular economy, we need to combat resource wastage. 

“New collection systems will need to be designed to preserve the quality of materials, whilst being easy-to-use and cost-effective. We also need innovative companies to develop new technology that will optimise the quantity and quality of materials that can be extracted from waste streams.

Repeated use of products and materials will stimulate markets for reuse, refurbishing and remanufacturing. Products will be made from less materials, but in some cases will require more labour to repurpose them, bringing with it jobs that stimulate our economy.

“Better methods of waste management are integral to a circular economy. The last decade, in the UK, has seen a rise in recycling rates, a reduction in waste being sent to landfill and a reduction in household waste overall. However, now is the time for the industry to step up, understand this new circular economy and the social and environmental factors that are impacting on it.”

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