The last few years have seen a rebirth of the British manufacturing industry with simultaneously strong government focus on moving to a more circular UK economy. Both of these developments provide valuable opportunities for the development of the UK remanufacturing industry.
Remanufacturing enables the rebuilding, improving and recycling of high quality materials, allowing for the life of products to come full circle and be resold in a ‘like-new’ state. Though opportunities for remanufacturing are far reaching, government continues to provide insufficient support in developing its full economic and environmental potential.
Earlier this year I chaired an inquiry by the All-Party Parliamentary Sustainable Resource Group, with our final report, ‘Remanufacturing: Towards a Resource Efficient Economy’, clearly stating the case for developing remanufacturing in the UK, with clear recommendations for government action.
It is encouraging that following one such recommendation, the High Speed Sustainable Manufacturing Institute (HSSMI), in collaboration with other leading organisations and universities are now in the process of creating a Centre of Excellence to provide precisely the innovation and best practice leadership the UK remanufacturing industry needs. This is a powerful step forward, and serves to show clearly that it is UK industry, not government, that is at the forefront of remanufacturing development in this country.
There remains much work to be done to put UK remanufacturing on a growth footing. To that end I am glad to be co-chairing, alongside my Parliamentary colleague Barry Sheerman MP, a new, larger inquiry which will allow us to drill deeper into the issue of remanufacturing growth, researching specific industries which have proven successful in remanufacturing, and contrasting these with industries where remanufacturing is not yet commonplace. It is vital to understand which industries provide the most opportunities for remanufacturing and understand how sectors where remanufacturing is struggling to take off can be supported.
The growth of remanufacturing will go hand-in-hand with improving national resilience, both economically and environmentally. The UK remanufacturing sector is already valued at £2.4bn, but has the potential to increase to £5.6bn and provide thousands of skilled jobs. Environmentally, remanufacturing uses 85% less energy than manufacturing and has the potential to save 800,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide each year.
Yet despite these opportunities, the UK remanufacturing industry faces significant obstacles and lags some 20 years behind the United States, where remanufacturing has grown into a $43bn industry employing 180,000 people.
If the sector is to move forward, government must take a more active role and act to remove many of the market barriers currently hampering remanufacturing growth in the UK. There is a very strong case for adopting a legal definition of remanufacturing to improve producer and consumer confidence and allow products to be legally protected via certification schemes.
Clarifying the legal definition of remanufacturing will also support industries such as textiles and WEEE, where remanufacturing potential remains unclear and help answer questions concerning whether or not the upcycling or repurposing of pre-consumer textiles may be claimed as part of the remanufacturing industry or not.
Remanufactured products also need to be given exemption from the ‘Current Guidance on Legal Definition of Waste’, as classifying remanufactured products as waste has discouraged manufacturers to take up remanufacturing.
Remanufacturing is a cross-disciplinary industry that cuts across government departments. Government needs to address remanufacturing as such by establishing a cross-departmental committee, led by the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills and supported by Defra. Design has also been quoted as being an important factor across the remanufacturing supply chain. Design for remanufacture allows for parts which need repairing or replacing to be attended too, without modifying the entire product’s architecture. The UK needs to follow the example of the US and legislatively make design specifications available to remanufacturers.
This new inquiry comes at a critical time. It is clear that the potential of remanufacturing within the UK is not yet fully appreciated by Parliamentarians or UK industry, despite much discussion and debate in recent months and years.
There is thus still much to be done. The economic and environmental values of remanufacturing need to be recognised and the UK cannot be afraid to innovate and develop the sector. Only by recognising the potential of remanufacturing in the UK and tackling the many barriers which continue to prevail, can the UK move towards a more circular economy.
For more information on the APSRG’s remanufacturing project, visit: www.policyconnect.org.uk/apsrg
Rt Hon Caroline Spelman is MP for Meriden and a former Environment Secretary.