Investment and the circular economy

10th December 2019 | Recycling

It is a year since the Government launched its Resources & Waste Strategy. Rightly hailed as a bold and ambitious document, the Strategy acknowledged for the first time the limitations of our current linear waste system before making a business and environmental case for a transition to a more circular economy.

Few can dispute the argument for a transition to a circular economy. Our current linear “extract, use, dispose” model relies on an infinite availability of natural resources at a perpetually low price. However, this “low cost” of natural resources fails to account for environmental impacts that their extraction comes with, including CO2 emissions, associated pollution and degradation of ecosystems and land. Neither does it account for the lost material value of products when they are rendered obsolete and sent to landfill.

Circular economy

This linear system – which ignores the reusable potential of existing materials – has led to a global waste crisis. In the UK we generate 220 million tonnes of waste a year. Figures from Defra show that 50% of this is recycled. However, years of restricted investment in our recycling system means a significant proportion of our recycling – particularly packaging – is still not exported to countries that have limited capacity to deal with it. Change is urgently required.

Changing an economic model from a linear one to a circular one takes time. It also takes investment. Likewise, a change in our waste and recycling sector can only happen if we provide finance mechanisms to support it. Investment facilitates innovation. Innovation builds recycling capacity. It also helps us with things like improving the quality and quantity of recyclate. Without investment innovative ideas won’t ever reach a point of market readiness – and we’ll never get a grip on the escalating waste crisis that we find ourselves in today.

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