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Circular economy works wonders in Wales

Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium is an icon in the rugby world. On an international day, when the surrounding streets are closed to traffic and crowds spill out of the pubs, the sound of 73,000 spectators singing Delilah can be heard right across town.

Since its completion for the 1999 Rugby World Cup, it has become a symbol of Welsh pride, and of the hopes for a resurgence of South Wales’ industrial heartlands and the Welsh economy.

A fitting venue, then, for the publication of a study which finds that Wales is ideally placed to become a leader in the circular economy.
Wales and the Circular Economy: Favourable system conditions and economic opportunities was produced by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, commissioned by WRAP on behalf of the Welsh Government. Its publication highlights both the scale of Wales’ ambition and the characteristics which put us in a strong position to be able to achieve this ambition, including entrepreneurship and collaboration.

These strengths set Wales in excellent stead to be able to deliver a saving of up to £2bn in material costs alone throughout the supply chain. And it is these strengths I see around me every day in the businesses with which WRAP works in Wales.

We opened the doors of WRAP Cymru in September 2008. Since then we’ve introduced European funded programmes, started working with manufacturers, food companies and hotels, and are currently looking for new offices to accommodate our ever-growing team. But we wouldn’t be here without the ambitious, forward-thinking businesses we’ve worked with over the years.

These companies were the focus of the WRAP Cymru Conference last week, which the publication of Wales and the Circular Economy marked. The Circular Economy in Action brought together business leaders from a range of sectors to discuss not just how Wales can bag that £2bn saving, but celebrate what’s already being achieved.

Among them was the Millennium Stadium itself, the first such venue in the UK to receive BSI British Standard 8901 for Sustainable Management Systems for Events. Its initiatives over the past few years have ranged from the familiar - such as separating out food waste - to the more unusual, including facilitating the reuse of old turf by donating it to community rugby clubs. The recent refurbishment of its executive boxes also resulted in all the old furniture and fittings being used by rugby clubs across Wales.

The stadium was a launch supporter of WRAP’s Hospitality and Food Service Agreement, and one of 15 Welsh organisations which have signed up to the initiative since its introduction in summer 2012. These include brewery SA Brain (also a Courtauld Commitment signatory), Swansea University, Bluestone Resorts and food service business Castell Howell.

Like the Millennium Stadium, Castell Howell has been working for several years now to prevent waste and help other businesses in its supply chain to do the same. Among its more eye-catching initiatives is a ‘steak school’ for chefs employed by one of its clients, which teaches them about lesser known cuts of meat, thus giving them the skills to make the most of every part of the animal, reduce waste disposal costs and maximise revenue.

In addition to the Hospitality and Food Service Agreement WRAP Cymru supports hospitality, tourism, food and drink SMEs to minimise food and associated packaging waste and cut costs with paid-for consultancy support and capital grants worth up to £60,000 per business. Although we only launched the project at the end of last year, it’s already thrown up some great examples of how applying circular economy thinking can make a tangible difference to businesses of all sizes.

We have supported a sandwich company, for example, which never used crusts for its sandwiches because it’s not what the customers wanted. So for every loaf it bought there were those two crusts which wouldn’t make it a penny and probably contributed to its waste disposal costs. With the help of a consultant funded by WRAP, it has discovered that these crusts can become a revenue stream - by making them into breadcrumbs to sell to sausage companies.

I love this example because it shows how a simple, low-cost intervention can deliver business benefits. But I also recognise that at times good advice is not enough, and that what is needed is investment.

We are starting to hear anecdotal evidence from investors who are telling us that when they are deciding which businesses to invest in they regard the fact that a business has been able to secure WRAP Cymru funding as a very positive sign. It highlights the way in which we are helping de-risk deals, thereby stimulating investment.

It is two years since we launched our ARID (Accelerating Reprocessing Infrastructure Development) project to drive regeneration in some of Wales’ most economically depressed regions by investing in developing the infrastructure and markets for high quality recyclate. By the end of last month the project - which is funded by the European Regional Development Programme through the Welsh Government - had allocated just over £4m of grants, which will create a predicted 147 new jobs by 2015.

Beneficiaries include Derwen Group of Neath, South Wales, which only entered the reprocessing field when its construction business started to suffer during the economic downturn, and which has created 11 new jobs as a result of ARID support, and Kevin Humphreys Recycling on Anglesey, which won its biggest contract off the back of its ARID-funded source-segregated business collections. Both businesses illustrate that investing in high quality collections and reprocessing infrastructure is as much about delivering business benefits as diverting waste from landfill.

It is, of course, something that those of us that work in the resources sector have known for a long time. But it is energising to see governments thinking the same way.

When Wales’ First Minister Carwyn Jones announced his new Cabinet last spring, he stressed that its priority was to create jobs and economic growth. You would have been forgiven for wondering whether this meant the end of Wales’ pioneering environmental policies - but you would have been wrong.

Last month’s Environment Bill White Paper contained enough resource-related proposals to keep most other nations in White Papers for years, including landfill and energy from waste bans and minimum charges for bags for life, as well the power to extend the range of materials subject to source-segregation. Meanwhile the launch of the Waste Prevention Programme is imminent, the municipal recycling rate continues to grow, and the proportion of households which receive separate food or food and green waste collections is over 90 per cent.

Perhaps it is Wales’ mining and farming heritage which means that as a nation we recognise that managing our natural resources sustainably makes economic as well as environmental sense. Maybe our small size means it is easier to adopt new ways of working than it is elsewhere. Whatever the reason, it is easy to see that the circular economy is in action in Wales.

Beth Winkley, head of WRAP Cymru

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