Why wait to join the circular economy revolution? - A perspective from Scotland

Date: 01/08/2017
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by Iain Gulland, Chief Executive, Zero Waste Scotland

Across the globe, governments and cities are waking up to a circular economy vision – one in which materials are kept in high-value use for longer through smarter design, re-use and reprocessing, and effective recycling at end of life.

In Europe, shifting towards a more circular economy could generate £1.4 trillion of annual benefits by 2030 – not to mention reducing carbon emissions by millions of tonnes a year.

Scotland is no exception. That’s why the Scottish Government has placed the circular economy firmly at the heart of its economic action plan and identified priority areas with the greatest opportunity to deliver economic, environmental and social benefits. These are contained within its dedicated circular economy strategy, Making Things Last.

Well-recognised as a circular economy pioneer, and with an international Circulars Award to show for it, Scotland is also preparing for a Circular Economy Bill within this parliament. We’re one year on from the European Commission’s Circular Economy Package, and there’s an EU Action Plan in place for 2017 to help close the loop on product lifecycles.

It’s not just Scotland that’s anticipating government action to further the circular economy either; Danish law already forbids the construction of new incineration plants, while in Sweden retailers selling electronic goods must accept the same quantity for re-use or recycling. In Japan manufacturers are even legally required to run disassembly facilities.

The question to businesses, entrepreneurs and innovators from Zero Waste Scotland and organisations like us across the world is: why wait? Individual organisations and collaborations between companies are already driving the circular economy revolution across Europe – despite legislation making it compulsory to adopt more circular ways of doing business being still pending. With benefits to the bottom line, job creation potential and the chance to adopt sustainable business practices (that consumers are calling for), now is the time to act.

Zero Waste Scotland has supported several businesses to deliver circular economy models that use collaboration and innovation to drive success – and the fact that these ideas can be shared to develop best practice – not just within cities and countries, but cross-border –becomes clear when we look at examples.

Glasgow-based brewery Jaw Brew and Aulds the Bakers were introduced to each other by Zero Waste Scotland and Glasgow Chamber of Commerce, as part of a Circle City Scan of Glasgow which aimed to identify potential circular economy business growth opportunities. Under its partnership with Aulds, unsold bread is used by Jaw Brew to make a lower alcohol beer for commercial sale – reducing food waste and generating a viable additional revenue stream for the business at the same time.

Meanwhile a Brussels-based brewery now collects leftover bread from local supermarkets to create meal for beer-making, and a waste company in the Netherlands has paired up with a hotel chain to take old bread as material for their anaerobic digester. The process generates compost, heat and green gas – the latter of which is used to power the trucks that collect the waste bread.

In Scotland, business models which develop alternative proteins suitable for use in salmon farming are a growing niche. A company using by-products from whisky-making to generate salmon feed recently announced that its success to date means it’s now close to building its first processing facility. In Norway the process of producing an alternative to fish proteins for use as food supplements and animal feed is already a prevalent technology.

Looking to technology as a commodity, retaining the value of products and their components even after they leave the manufacture or retail environment is big business, with circular economy principles at the core. IT company Re-Tek was supported by Zero Waste Scotland to develop an ‘incentivised return’ circular economy business model for electrical equipment, extending financial incentives to customers to return their old goods for repair and resale. The company currently repairs and re-markets around 80% of the equipment it receives, recycling 19% and with just 1% disposed of to landfill.

Top-level action from governments could be key to pushing reluctant circular economy converts over the line; but the wealth of evidence and facilitation support available means it makes business sense to become a circular economy ‘early adopter’ – and to do it now. Within just a few short years best practice examples of operational, successful circular economy business models have grown exponentially. There’s a wealth of practical evidence out there that the circular economy is good for business, backed by expert research.

As collaboration is key to making the circular economy work on the ground, so it’s also paramount that countries work together to drive a more sustainable, competitive and prosperous future. The more nations invested in the circular economy the greater the opportunities available; and it’s by sharing ideas and working across borders to achieve solutions that a fully circular economy will be realised.

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For further information on Scotland and the circular economy, contact rickard.eksten@scotent.co.uk at Scotland Europa