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Study 'pinpoints' jobs boost from circular economy

Improving resource efficiency in the UK could create some 54,000 additional jobs by 2030 as well as bringing wider benefits to the labour market, research has indicated.

The analysis, described as the first of its kind, was produced by the environmental think tank Green Alliance in partnership with WRAP.

The researchers modelled the impact of growing a circular economy in the next 15 years under three scenarios:

  • If no new initiatives are taken, gross job growth is estimated at 31,000 (see table below).
  • If the expansion of the circular economy continues at the current rate, researchers forecast gross job growth at 205,000 – of which 54,000 would be net gains.
  • The number could rise to 517,000 if there were a complete transformation of the economy, with substantial progress in recycling and remanufacturing, as well as in reuse, service models uptake and bio-refinery.

The report argues that jobs would be created in the north-east, north-west, Yorkshire and Humber, West Midlands and London, whereas in the south-east and south-west, which are close to or at low unemployment rates, a significant proportion of growth would displace jobs in other activities.

We will need Government to play its part in setting higher standards for product and resource recovery

Matthew Spencer, Green Alliance

The researchers concluded that net job creation would reach 10,000 under the low scenario, 54,000 under the medium one and 102,000 under the highest model, and offset a predicted decline in skilled unemployment by 1.3%, 6.8% and 17.7%, respectively.

The study also indicated that the growth of the circular economy would bring about wider benefits for the labour market such as:

  • reducing regional disparities in employment by offering a broad geographical spread of new job opportunities
  • reducing the mismatch between workers’ occupations and their abilities, as new opportunities will be created across skill levels
  • increasing jobs near existing manufacturing sites and re-engaging former manufacturing workers

Liz Goodwin WRAP

Liz Goodwin, chief executive of WRAP, right, said it was the first time a study had pinpointed “exactly who, what and where could benefit from the implementation of the circular economy”.

“This signals a major new opportunity for Britain’s economy, and could deliver jobs where they are needed the most,” she said.

Matthew Spencer, Green Alliance director, said that policy changes would be needed to exploit the job creation potential of the circular economy.

“To be able to stimulate these new jobs in remanufacturing and reuse we will need the Government to play its part in setting higher standards for product and resource recovery,” he said.

“The biggest opportunity to do that is in the EU circular economy package, which is being renegotiated this year. But the UK will have to become an active champion of higher ambition or we could end up with no new policy drivers for investment.” (More comments below)

The European Commission has said it will be drafting an ambitious programme on the circular economy after shelving a set of policies proposed in the previous legislation.

 Scenario oneScenario twoScenario three
Gross job growth31,000205,000517,000
Net job growth10,00054,000102,000
Fall in the unemployment rate0.02%0.15%0.28%
% offset of predicted decline in skilled employment during the next decade1.3%6.8%17.7%


Comments from the launch

Susanne Baker, senior climate and environment policy adviser, EEF:

“This report speaks to George Osborne, to the Treasury and to shadow chancellors just at the final stages of manifesto drafting and preparation, so it is a well-timed and well-executed report. At this stage this is an important message to be sending out to the politicians.”

Nicola Smith, head of economic and social affairs, TUC:

“This sort of study, which looks very clearly at how we can be more resource efficient at the same time as challenging labour market inequalities, is a very positive contribution to the debate in the helpful way that a range of organisational agendas can come together to argue for an economy that is more socially just as well as resource efficient.”

Professor Stephen Malchin, UCL:

“Creating jobs with decent pay as innovative technologies evolve is a challenge, given the UK’s traditional difficulties in generating good jobs for workers with low and intermediate skills. This report emphasises the need for this kind of job creation, especially given the decline in jobs in the middle tier of the labour market.”

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