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Circular economy: not yet in it together

Design for recycling

What makes the concept of the circular economy (CE) so attractive is that, at its core, circular thinking can be applied throughout the entire economy.

Anne Marie Benoy

Anne Marie Benoy

Circularity can drive resource efficiency in manufacturing, logistics, design, energy and retail just as much as the traditional waste industry, which is currently the main one engaging with this discourse.

Despite this fact, conversations between UK industry and the Government seem to be focused in the environmental and sustainability sectors and in Defra. We need partnership, communication and engagement with Government as well as industry leadership if we want to entrench CE thinking into all corners of our society.

The All-Party Parliamentary Sustainable Resource Group (APSRG) has been working hard to raise awareness on this subject. It has involved parliamentarians and experts alike to publicise the idea that waste and resource efficiency is an issue that the Government, industry and policymakers need to tackle together to make a positive environmental, social and economic impact.

For example, the joint report from APSRG and the All-Party Parliamentary Manufacturing Group, Triple Win: The Social, Economic and Environmental Case for Remanufacturing, outlined the important role the UK manufacturing sector can play in driving resource efficiency and connecting the back end of our supply chains to the front.

Our most recent publication, Link to Link: Driving Resource Efficiency across Supply Chains, also showcased the vital role that all stages along our global supply chains can play in encouraging waste reduction. Taking the shape of an essay collection, it brought together experts and case studies across all kinds of industries, from food waste to car manufacturing, to highlight how resource efficiency across supply chains really can work successfully.

Currently, UK waste and resource policy is focused on the lower tiers of the waste hierarchy and targeted largely at the waste sector. But for the UK to fully move towards a CE, we need to design policy that encourages the top end of the waste hierarchy, such as waste reduction and reuse, and engage with actors beyond the traditional waste industry.

The waste and resource efficiency teams at Defra have certainly been working with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) on some of these issues, particularly on waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE). These efforts are a good first step towards aligning different sectors.

But there is an immense opportunity for BIS, the Treasury, UK Trade & Investment and the Department for Communities and Local Government in particular to do a lot more. Similar to climate change adaptation and mitigation efforts, CE thinking needs to be ingrained into governmental policy more horizontally, across all departments, instead of being considered only in Defra policy.

Of course, green public procurement – where public authorities purchase goods and services with a lower environmental impact – can be a great starting point, such as in supporting the remanufacturing industry. But these opportunities could be developed even further through the creation of an Office for Resource Management (ORM).

Based in Defra or BIS, this Office could work in partnership with the climate change committee and natural capital committee, and across all of government to make sure resource efficiency issues are tackled and circular thinking is incorporated in an overarching industrial strategy.

In March 2015, APSRG held a seminar on the potential for an ORM with the Institute of Civil Engineers, Friends of the Earth and the EEF employers’ group, and the level of engagement I saw showed this is clearly something numerous organisations have thought about before.

Anne-Marie Benoy is manager of the All-Party Parliamentary Sustainable Resource Group

This article was written before the news that the BIS environmental teams will be transferred to Defra (see page 10).

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