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The Circular Economy Blog

27th July 2017

Martin Hyde

Our Circular Economy Blog brings expert advice and discussions on environmental compliance and the circular economy. Be sure to check for regular updates.

The Circular Economy Explained Part 1 - Principles

Posted: 28 June 2017

So, what is the Circular Economy? Why does the EU have a specific “package”? How does this all effect Businesses and Consumers in the UK? Well hopefully over the next few months this will all begin to become clear.  With this set of Circular Economy Blogs, we intend to shed some light on the more intricate details of the Circular Economy.

In issue 1 we will have a general review of the Circular Economy and its major Principles.

What is the Circular Economy?

A Circular Economy is, in its most basic form, a movement away from the linear system we currently use for material consumption. It is well known that there is only a finite quantity of materials present on the planet, and by consistently extracting resources to be used and then discarded through non-regenerative means (such as landfill) we will eventually run out. In a Circular Economy, businesses, governments and consumers alike, look to minimise both the Inputs (new material extracted) and outputs (waste to landfill / greenhouse gas emissions) and keep material moving through a system designed to maximise its value and usage.

Closing the loop:

Closing the loop is an expression which is used a lot when discussing the circular economy. It refers to movement away from a linear system and acting in a way that directly causes a process or product to be more “Circular”. For example, minimising the new resources needed to create a product, and instead using recycled waste from the end of a products life could be considered “closing the loop on production”.

A Circular Economy can in part be explained by its four major principles:

Waste = Food

This refers to the direct usage and flow of materials, and an ideal movement towards “Cradle to Cradle” production. In a true Circular Economy, there are no material inputs or outputs, and material equilibrium is reached. Obviously, this would be quite a struggle to achieve in our current society, however the principle still holds its validity when taken with a light pinch of salt. The idea here is that there is a lot of value in the material we currently send to waste and landfill, and if we can find a way to utilise this material we can minimise the amount of inputs needed to sustain our demand for products, this reducing our dependence on volatile commodities. A good example of this principle in action is DUO Plastics, who have launched a 100% recycled polythene product which relies on waste as its source material, rather than finite, volatile commodities such as Oil.

Build Resilience through Diversity

This principle takes a slight bit of inspiration from nature, the idea here is that biodiversity supports natural systems during times of shock, so why can this ideal not be extrapolated to businesses, nations or even economies? By sharing strengths, and building multiple revenue streams businesses can protect themselves from times of uncertainty. Many businesses have now begun to see the value in waste and by-products of their major operations, and this provide some additional security. A good example of this principle is British Sugar PLC whom have over time developed multiple, ancillary products from their Sugar factory in Wissington. This includes setting up a separate part of the business to sell the soil removed from sugar beet as part of the manufacturing process.

Use Energy from Renewable Resources

This would appear to be the most straightforward principle, it is all very well maximising recycling levels, and minimising waste, but if the entire system runs off non – renewable energy, then a Circular Economy can never be reached. By moving to more renewable, sustainable energy we can further minimise environmental impact.

Think in Systems

The fourth principle is the one which links it all together, by considering products and services as part of a greater system, we can look to ensure the maximum value of material throughout each system as well as minimise the necessity for inputs and outputs to the system. For example, if manufacturers consider how to make products as repairable as possible, e.g. by modular design, the product’s lifetime can be extended. Thinking in systems also applies to multiple groups working together. One company’s waste is another’s food. A good example of this is Nespresso, who have developed a “Closed Loop” recycling system by which the empty aluminium pods from their coffee machines are collected and sent to a re-processor who utilises the coffee grounds to produce compost and melts down the aluminium for use in other products.

If you are interested in reviewing the Circular Economy in relation to your products, and would like more information on how to do so, then please feel free to get in touch with me at Martin@complydirect.com

Next Month we will be taking a look at the Circular Economy as a visual model of material movements, tune in then for a summary of “The Butterfly Diagram”. If you can’t wait, then feel free to follow the link below to The Ellen Macarthur Foundation’s Butterfly Diagram.

https://www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/circular-economy/interactive-diagram

The Circular Economy in Action

Posted: 8 June 2017

One of our very own members, Ella's Kitchens have teamed up with Terracycle to boost their recycling levels via a process called "Ellacycle". The system implemented indicates how the Circular Economy can be utilised in a positive way for businesses.

The way Ellacycle works is that customers are able to return their empty pouches and snack wrappers, by printing mailing labels from Terracycle's website. There are a variety of rewards for this which include charitable donations and reward points based on the number of units returned in shipments over 5kg. The minimum weight of 5kg ensures that the process in place helps to make the system financially viable and stops people from sending unnecessary small amounts by post. This just shows how a company in an industry rife with difficult to recycle plastic packaging has made an effective change to ensure it is able to maximise the recycling levels of its product whilst boosting customer relations.

The statistics speak for themselves:

  • 2,500 locations
  • 1,816,329 Kg waste recycled
  • £36,264.55 raised

More information about this can be found by clicking here.

Public views, Criticism, the General Election & Green Week

Posted: 8 June 2017

Following on from Green Week last week and with the General Election, we give an update on the Circular Economy.

It is clear from the each of the Party's manifestos (Read here) that there is an element of cause for concern over the plan for the Circular Economy, whoever is in charge at Downing Street following Thursday 8 June.

Public views

A survey conducted by the Institute of Environmental Management & Assessment (IEMA) highlighted that climate, resource and energy concerns are high in the run up to the general election campaign. 90% of 618 sustainability experts surveyed, were extremely unhappy or unhappy with poor coverage of issues including climate change, resource management, renewable energy and pollution throughout the General Election campaign. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Green Party was voted strongest on environmental issues at 57%, whilst Labour came second at 9% with tories gaining only 6% of the vote.

Lack of 'Transparency' and 'Ambition'

The UK government has been criticised for a 'lack of transparency' in it’s stance over the EU's Circular Economy Package. The European Environment Bureau (EEB) approached each of the 27 European Union Member States and have expressed concern over the failure of the UK Government to conduct negotiations on the Circular Economy Package in an open and transparent manner. It is important to realise and remember that MEPs voted in favour of a increase in recycling targets by 2030, upped to 70%, alongside recycling measure changes. The review also found that a number of countries have been unwilling to share their stance on the Circular Economy Package. Countries such as Greece, Romania and Spain have been praised for their actions towards the Circular Economy and wanting to take action to improve recycling, waste prevention and re-use and improved collection systems. If the circular economy package is passed in the EU before the UK exit, it will be brought into EU law through the Great Repeal Bill, but following this transposition, the package would be subject to amendment or even scrapping by the UK government.

Environmental campaign groups have called for the EU's Council and Commission to back food waste proposals agreed by the European Parliament, as set out by the Circular Economy Package, which includes targets to reduce food waste by 30% by 2025 and 50% by 2050. ‘This Is Rubbish’, which started the campaign, reports that it has been backed by over 50 organisations from 18 EU countries.

Campaigners from This Is Rubbish have highlighted their concern that the European Council are advocating non-binding targets and have asked the EC to 'up their ambition and unite' behind the proposals. They admit that halving the EU food waste by 2030 is going to take a monumental effort and if we don't start acting now then it is likely to fail.

Green Week plays its part in the Circular Economy

Last week played host to Green Week, the biggest annual event on environmental policy, which highlighted the opportunity for jobs and skill gaps in the Circular Economy. The Chartered Institute of Waste Managers (CIWM) stated that green employment is up by 20% since 2000 to reach 4.2m jobs in 2014, is is attracting applicants more sectors than ever, and that there is much more work to do in order to take full advantage of the Circular Economy Package.

If you have any questions, please get in touch with us 

MEPs vote in favour of Circular Economy package revisions - update 16 March

Posted: 16 March 2017

MEPs have voted by majority to accept a new, higher, 70% recycling target. The new recycling target is a significant increase on the previous target of 65% proposed in the 2015 package. The Amendments to the EU's Circular Economy package would also see an 80% target for packaging waste, and separate targets for preparation for reuse of waste (5%) and for reuse of packaging waste (10%). 

Another amendment to the package is a change to the way in which progress towards recycling targets is measured. This will include changing the wording of laws which allow materials from sorting facilities to count towards final recycling tonnages. The technicality suggests that the final recycling process begins when “no further sorting operation is needed and waste materials are effectively reprocessed into products, materials or substances” in essence, when the material enters the manufacturing process. This would otherwise make recording recycling rates more difficult, as output material from sorting facilities cannot be included. This could cause issues where material is processed in a different country than that in which it was collected and sorted, for example when plastic is sorted in the UK and then shipped overseas.

The MEPs vote to accept the proposals does not yet guarantee the above targets, as the changes will now be assessed by Member State governments before being considered by European ministers. Negotiations on the proposals between the European Council of Ministers and the Commission are expected to commence in the upcoming months. It is also unknown how these targets would be implemented if the United Kingdom does accept the Circular Economy Package post Brexit.

DEFRA, have been critical of higher recycling targets. Resources minister, Dr Thérèse Coffey, had previously provided negative views on the original recycling targets of 65%, stating that it would be 'too high to be achievable'. Therefore, it would follow that the further proposed increases to 70% would be unwelcome.

Conservative MEP for South West England and Gibraltar, Julie Girling, also highlighted her cause for concern of making sure that we 'do not take steps backwards by making overly-ambitious targets.'

However, there is some support for the increased recycling targets, as campaign group Friends of the Earth Europe, reacted positively to the increase in targets:

”This is a welcome boost for recycling and waste reduction in Europe. The European Council needs to step up to the plate to ensure these more ambitious proposals become European law, and improve measures to prevent waste going to landfill and incineration.”

Leaving the EU...how does this effect your environmental compliance?

Posted: 9 February 2017

Current position: The UK is still a member of the EU; once we file our Article 50 notification we will have 2 years in which to negotiate a deal to leave the EU. During this time, we will remain members of the EU and EU laws will still apply. It has been announced that the aim is to file the Article 50 notification by the end of March 2017.

The government’s Brexit White Paper which was recently published confirmed that the current framework of environmental regulation set out in EU Directives will be transposed into UK and devolved law in the Great Repeal Bill. This means that all EU legislation will be directly transposed into UK law. Importantly, the government’s Brexit White Paper states that the Great Repeal Bill will include environmental controls such as Packaging, WEEE and Batteries producer legislation. All of this legislation will continue to apply once we leave the EU, at least until such time as the UK is able (or so desires) to put into place alternative legislation.

“The Government is committed to ensuring we become the first generation to leave the environment in a better state than we found it. We will use the Great Repeal Bill to bring the current framework of environmental regulation into UK and devolved law.” – Brexit White Paper, 2 Feb 2017

On the horizon…the Circular Economy Package

Following the announcement of the Great Repeal Bill in October 2016 there has been an increased focus on new EU legislation which may be adopted into EU law before the UK leaves the EU and will therefore be transposed into UK law. One example is the Circular Economy Package. It appears likely that the Circular Economy Package will be adopted before the end of the two year withdrawal process and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) recently announced that it continues to work under the assumption that the Circular Economy Package will apply to the UK post-Brexit. So, with this in mind, what is the Circular Economy Package?

What is the Circular Economy?

In a circular economy products and the materials they contain are highly valued, unlike in a traditional, linear economic model, based on a ‘take, consume, throw away’ pattern. In practise this means reducing waste to a minimum, as well as re-using, repairing, refurbishing and recycling existing materials and products. Rather than thinking waste. Think resource.

The EU see’s moving toward a circular economy as delivering benefits, including “reduced pressures on the environment, enhanced security of supply of raw materials, increased competitiveness, innovation, growth and jobs”. - EPRS Briefing January 2016

What is the Circular Economy Package?

The Circular Economy Package has been created to add momentum to support the transition towards a more circular economy in the EU.

The Circular Economy Package includes legislative proposals to:

  • Introduce new waste-management targets for reuse, recycling and landfilling
  • Strengthen focus on the prevention of waste and extended producer responsibility

The European Waste management targets include increasing recycling rates to 70% by 2030 (this is a significant increase from the previous target of 65% proposed in the 2015 package). This ambitious target comes just a short time after UK recycling rates decreased for the first time ever, meaning the UK may fail to meet the current EU target of 50% by 2020 (43.9% in 2015).

 

The graph above shows proposed and actual recycling rates for municipal waste (from households and businesses) in the EU.

The proposed 70% recycle or re-use target applies to packaging materials including paper and cardboard, plastics, glass, metal and wood. So, what should producers expect? Although uncertain, the higher recycling and re-use targets will increase pressure on governments to increase recycling rates and may increase the costs of compliance for producers.

There is a trend toward incentives to recycle packaging and repair EEE as well as a focus on re-use and repair activities through improved product design.

Before the Circular Economy Package is passed into EU law, all three European Institutions (Council, Parliament and Commission) must have an agreed stance. This is unlikely to happen until the second half of 2017 but may be achieved before the UK leaves the EU in 2019.