Reducing Waste Supporting a Circular Economy

28 March 2022

Reducing Waste Supporting a Circular Economy
Recent events in Ukraine have brought renewed focus on how resilient our supply chains are for those essential commodities which we use day-to-day, such as energy to keep our lights on. In recent years, whether it be sources of energy or raw materials such as metals or grain, the current supply chains which “feed” our society are being changed – increasingly by default and in an unplanned manner.


We need a more robust solution and part of the answer lies in the development of a Circular Economy – a concept usually interpreted in public debate through the lens of Net Zero and environmental concerns. These perspectives however are beginning to change, as evidenced in recent press coverage (see here).
At a recent seminar organised by the Association for Public Service Excellence (APSE), Tim Walker, arc21’s CEO, talked through the implications of Westminster’s latest Environment Act under the title “Reducing Waste: Supporting a Circular Economy”.
One definition of a Circular Economy is that it “values resources, cuts carbon emissions & reduces waste”. The concept also featured strongly at last year’s COP26 in Glasgow. Delegates were advised that a Circular Economy, where ”resource efficiency is maximised, the waste hierarchy is adhered to and our materials are put back to use”, could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 39%. The flip side of addressing our climate crisis is that we need to use and develop materials that can be used again and again, leading to less reliance on imports of virgin materials and other finite natural resources.
This is particularly relevant in the world of waste. People often fail to make the connection, but waste is the physical outworking of how much “stuff” we consume. Habits which aren’t exactly Circular Economy friendly. It’s estimated that every one of us personally consumes almost half a tonne of stuff annually, hence the colossal amounts of rubbish produced on a daily basis.
There are a number of provisions in the Environment Act (2021) seeking to accelerate the growth of a Circular Economy:
  • Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) to make producers pay 100% of the disposal of products, starting with plastic packaging
  • Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) for single use drinks containers
  • Banning certain single use plastics
  • Electronic waste tracking to monitor waste movements to help tackle fly-tipping and waste crime
  • The “near” elimination of landfilling bio-degradable waste by 2028
  • Reducing landfilling of residual waste to 10% by 2035
Given that the first two elements of the waste hierarchy are to “Reduce” and ”Reuse”, the emergence of the Circular Economy is excellent news for residents who pay for Council waste collection and disposal. The bad news, however, is that such is the scale of change required to build a Circular Economy, it will take 20-30 years working at full pace for it to come to fruition. Until that happens, we’re still left with the sizeable problem of what to do with our non-recyclable rubbish (15m black bins’ worth each year just in the arc21 area).
New infrastructure such as that proposed by arc21 can contribute during this transition by increasing the amount and quality of recyclable material recovered, and turning our non-recyclable waste into green energy. The long-term solution, however, will be to consume less and design products that are Circular Economy friendly (i.e. can be reused many, many times). That will be better for the environment and the climate, and help reduce the impact on us from unforeseen global supply chain shocks.