Within difficulty lies opportunity: how Brexit could drive the UK circular economy

3rd January 2019 | Recycling

With Brexit looming large on the horizon, I believe that the UK’s departure from the EU offers fresh opportunities for our nation and its manufacturers to secure their raw material supplies, such as recycled plastics, from a stable domestic market and stimulate a circular flow of materials. With uncertainty persisting around the whole Brexit process, there could be potential difficulties in transporting material across borders after 29 March 2019. However, from a more optimistic viewpoint, such logistics should become a driver for growth in the domestic market as purchasers seek to reduce inward material supply chain risk.

Freedom from regulatory controls and external policies, coupled with the ability to set our own rules, could encourage greater investment and enable the UK to “get ahead of the rest of Europe” in material recovery and resource security, provided there is strong government leadership. Recyclers, like ourselves, who process waste materials derived from within this country are arguably in a stronger “self-reliant” position than those who rely on external supply chains or import goods from abroad. We extract plastics from end-of-life cars and other metal scrap to produce polymers that are reused in a variety of other goods, including automotive parts.

Circular economy

With 31.5 million cars currently on UK roads, our future end-of-life vehicle feedstock for our recycled polymers is assured. And that can only be good news for UK companies seeking to use locally-sourced plastic raw materials that can go back into a range of products, from new cars and electrical equipment to construction products.

Brexit is inevitable now. Although complications could arise, we are taking a positive approach. British companies should focus on the opportunity that leaving the EU offers and how we can make the most or our resource sustainable position. A good example here is steel. With annual consumption (12 million tonnes) versus annual arisings (11.5 million tonnes), this market could be much more “circular” than the existing export of scrap/ import of finished products model. Similarly, demand creation for the use of recycled polymers in new automotive, electrical and building products could encourage further investment in more processing plants to produce plastics for new UK-produced goods.

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