As the world aims to move towards a more sustainable approach to resource management the ‘Circular economy’ is often cited. The concept means different things to many people so here Dr Gavin Bunting, Deputy Director for Innovation and Engagement in the College of Engineering explores what the Circular Economy is, what role Swansea University is playing to develop the concept in Wales and how you can implement the principles into your organisation.
The UK generates 200 million tonnes of waste every year with almost a quarter of that going to landfill, whilst many of the resources needed for critical applications such as power generation, communications and medical equipment are becoming more scarce.
In addition, most of us have come across the scenario where it’s cheaper to buy a new printer, washing machine, phone, etc than it is to repair or upgrade it. Why should this be the case?
One solution to tackle this excess waste and obsolescence is to move to a circular economy where products are designed to:
- last longer
- be upgraded, repaired and re-used
- enable easy recovery and recycling of constituent materials they contain at the end of the product’s life
The potential economic benefits to Wales of operating a circular economy have been estimated by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and the Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP) to be £2bn annually, for the two sectors of: medium-lived complex goods, e.g. automobile, electronic equipment and machinery; and fast-moving consumer goods, e.g. food and beverages, clothing and personal care.
What is the circular economy?
The British Standards Institute describes the circular economy as follows:
‘The ‘circular economy’ is a concept which challenges organisations to re-think how their resources are managed, to create financial, environmental and social benefits.
One of the key aims of the circular economy is to keep products, components and materials at their highest utility and value at all times, in keeping with the mantra of the circular economy as being restorative and regenerative by design.
The move to a circular economy is a significant opportunity for businesses and organisations; by contributing to a resource-efficient and low-carbon economy, costs and supply chain risks are reduced.
Further benefits for businesses that choose to implement the principles of the circular economy include improved resilience, new revenue streams, and enhanced corporate sustainability credentials.’
Developing the Circular Economy in Wales: the Circular Economy Research and Innovation Group (CERIG)
Working together with colleagues in the Higher Education for Future Generations Group, Wales, the Regional Centre of Expertise (RCE) Wales and the Welsh Government, Swansea University has set up the Circular Economy Research and Innovation Group (CERIG) for Wales.
Moving towards a circular economy requires a multi-disciplinary approach, encompassing research and innovation into areas such as: designing products for refurbishment and re-use; developing new materials and extracting useful resources from natural materials; developing new business models that incentivise the manufacturer to design a product for longevity; developing appropriate standards and governance arrangements; and investigating how we can communicate the opportunities and challenge perceptions of the circular economy.
Only by combining expertise across a wide range of disciplines can we truly tackle the systems change needed to make the circular economy a reality.
We have a lot of this expertise in Welsh universities and by working together we can address circular economy challenges.
The proposed aim of the group is to ’connect complementary expertise and experiences to facilitate circular economy innovation and research in Wales'.
The group intends to:
- Provide a forum to share good practice and facilitate knowledge exchange between academia, business and policymakers.
- Through collaboration, increase circular economy research capacity in Welsh institutions.
- Engage with industry to develop industry-led research.
- Provide evidence to inform Government policy and programmes.
- Develop an online forum to facilitate the exchange of good practice, funding opportunities, news and events.
- Showcase the network’s circular economy outputs internationally, thus supporting the development of international partnerships.
- Collaborate on curriculum development and training.
- Work with the Global Regional Centre of Expertise (RCE) network (acknowledged by the United Nations University) to share learning and good practice at regional, national and international levels.
CERIG allows businesses to efficiently and effectively access relevant expertise and knowledge throughout Welsh academia.
Furthermore, CERIG works closely with other WEFO funded operations such as ASTUTE, IMPACT, METaL and M2A, ensuring businesses access academic expertise via the most appropriate mechanism to suit their needs.
How can you implement the principles of the circular economy into your organisation?
The British Standard for the ‘Circular Economy’ provides information on how your organisation can transition from a linear to a circular operation. Practical implementation of the six principles of the circular economy – innovation; stewardship; collaboration; value optimisations; transparency; and “systems thinking” form the basis of the standard, and step-by-step guidance on how an organisation can navigate through the different stages of implementation is given.
Join us at our Circular Economy event on 27th November
If you would finding out more about the circular economy then make sure you attend our next Swansea University LINC event on Thursday 27 November when Dr Gavin Bunting and a host of other experts will discuss how we can all work together to eliminate waste and improve our reuse of resources. Tickets are free so don't miss out and book your place now.
If you’d like to know how your organisation can get involved with the Circular Economy Research and Innovation Group or would like more information about our forthcoming event please contact us.