It was my great pleasure to open the 2016 WRAP Cymru conference. Wales has taken an international lead on sustainability through its Well-being of Future Generations Act – the extraordinary and so far unique measure of compelling public bodies to consider the effects of their decisions on generations to come.
The Act provides the wider context for an ambitious Welsh Government agenda on improving prosperity and reducing waste. This includes supporting WRAP Cymru to deliver programmes for local authorities, the wider public and third sectors, businesses and consumers. All these strands of work have mobilised multiple partners and shown multiple benefits. So at the conference, there was a knowledgeable and receptive audience for our themes of innovation and collaboration.
Innovation, I was reminded in our discussions, is not the same as invention – the truly blue-skies stuff. It is about doing known things in new ways, applying existing expertise to new areas, and finding new people to work with. I met some passionate advocates, and we heard some perfect illustrations of innovation in action.
There was the Public Health Wales refurbishment project, which built a sleek new interior out of diverse pieces of re-used furniture. It was a project driven equally by value for money and avoidance of waste, and resulted in a partnership with a social enterprise and a solution loved by staff. Then there was the ‘Love Your Clothes’ week in Cardiff that engaged people in conversation about fashion waste by up-cycling jeans into festival shorts. And the Food and Fun project that gave children both those ingredients in school clubs over the summer holidays, providing a foundation in healthy and sustainable eating as well as physical and creative play.
We also heard how Swansea students are using surplus food from their own university campus and local stores to host ‘get to know each other’ dinners for their community; providing nourishment, sociability and dispelling common prejudices about students. And this really was just a flavour of what’s happening out there in Wales.
For me, one of the stand-out aspects of the conference was hearing frequent references to the use of public procurement as a tool. Alongside the Public Health Wales furniture example was E-cycle, a firm providing work for people with disabilities in the collection, erasing and refurbishment of IT equipment, used by the MOD and Welsh Government among others. It is not too far a stretch to imagine public procurement requirements for all goods and services to demonstrate their circular economy credentials – for instance in terms of recycled content, potential for repair and re-use, or length of warranties.
The economic benefits of such an approach are clear – lower life-time costs, less disruption to services, creation of local jobs, and critical raw materials kept in Wales rather than going over the border. I think Wales is really well placed to put this into action and something I will certainly keep an eye on.
I hope that participants left our conference inspired to find new partners and try new tools to make the circular economy real on the ground. We experienced first hand the political and policy support for that goal, so I have every expectation that Wales will continue its strong leadership.
Julie Hill, chair, WRAP