Co-Producing a Vision and Approach for the Transition towards a Circular Economy: Perspectives from Government Partners
1. Introduction: Moving Away from the Resource Scarcity and Waste Overload Paradox
2. Methods: Co-Producing a Shared Vision and Approach for a Circular Economy
2.1. Overview of Resource Recovery from Waste Co-Creation Processes
- Formulate an initial vision within an academic RRfW team
- Develop the vision and approach to realise it with RRfW’s governmental partners
- Extend findings with insights from RRfW industry partners
- Publish shared vision on waste and resource management
2.2. Engaging Governmental Partners
- For which organisation(s) are you working, and what is your role in waste and resource management?
- What would the resource and waste management landscape ideally look like by 2020, 2030, and 2050?
- If we would like waste management to be driven by environmental and social benefits in addition to economic benefits, what would be the key policy and regulatory approaches?
- How could RRfW best engage governmental organisations to translate knowledge into practice?
3.1. Key Themes for Vision on Waste and Resource Management
3.1.1. Integrating Economic with Social and Environmental Values
3.1.2. Supporting Secondary Resource Markets
3.1.3. Enabling Innovations
3.1.4. Whole System Approach Identifying Key Intervention Points
- Higher end of the waste hierarchy (Figure 3): All participants were coherent in suggesting a move away from end-of-pipe approaches towards an accelerated focus on the top of the waste hierarchy i.e., more waste reduction, reuse, and recycling. However, the ways in which this needs to be realised varied between regulating/charging and incentivising (further discussed in next section).
- Carbon benefits of improved waste and resource management: Carbon emissions were associated with waste and resource management. With regard to the embodied carbon in materials, components, and products, i.e., the energy used to extract/grow and process the resources into its current functional form, recycling/reuse may deliver carbon savings when compared to processing virgin materials. In energy-intensive industries, waste and resource management are increasingly important for decarbonisation now that savings through energy-efficiency measures are reaching thermodynamic limits. Waste infrastructure such as biogas and energy-from-waste also play a direct role in the decarbonisation of the energy sector. Finally, the ways in which carbon emissions have climbed government and industry agendas could serve as an example for waste management.
- Waste/circular economy infrastructure: Enabling the circular economy requires a better understanding of existing waste infrastructure, including location and capacity (such as also analysed in Purnell ). Arguably, a decentralised waste infrastructure would benefit the circular economy, allowing the segregation of waste streams to realise resources and value as close to the point of discard as possible, whilst offering the best opportunity to stimulate regional economies. However, the feasibility of regional waste treatment will depend on the materials concerned (also see Jensen ); increasingly complex materials are expected to pose new technological challenges for the waste industry. Nevertheless, exporting wastes as Refuse Derived Fuel/ Solid Recovered Fuel was generally perceived as a missed opportunity to generate value from material recovery for the UK economy. Re-imagined waste infrastructure and procurement systems in the UK could improve these outcomes.
3.2. Policy and Regulatory Approaches
3.2.1. Key Policy Directions
- Longer term policies that are stable and predictable. Such policies would enable investment and business model innovation.
- The vision focussing on the higher levels of the waste hierarchy was reflected in the suggestion to focus policies on resources and resource efficiency rather than waste and waste reduction.
- Build on the European Union (EU) Circular Economy Strategy to maintain integrity with EU resource, waste, and circular economy policies.
- Prioritise the reduction of single use and superfluous products/packaging as well as the use of hazardous materials in products when it poses barriers to recycling.
- Develop circular economy infrastructure in support of a decarbonisation agenda.
3.2.2. Regulation and Incentives
- Taxation and tax breaks—To promote reuse and repair in addition to recycling. Taxation could motivate technological change, potentially further mechanisation, and support a transition from labour-focussed to resource-focussed processes. Taxation could also play a role in internalising elements of resource value that are currently largely externalised, such as the end-of-life impacts. Such tax approaches would enable prioritising resource use by the value of the products, components, and materials being produced; however, it requires new frameworks and tools to measure, categorise, and prioritise resource use by application.
- Reporting—It is necessary to identify and understand resource flows, especially at higher levels of the waste hierarchy such as reuse (further details in this comprehensive study of reuse in the UK and Ireland ). Reporting could be incentivised by tax breaks in reuse and repair. Nevertheless, motivating reuse and repair should not create perverse incentives that make waste prevention and reducing resource use relatively less attractive. In this respect, extended producer and consumer responsibility can play an important role.
- Extended producer and consumer responsibility—Extended producer responsibility (EPR) can help target specific waste/ resource streams, support schemes to make polluters pay, and motivate designing wastes out of the system. EPR should be combined with an increasing emphasis on consumer responsibility in order to improve the quality and quantity of wastes feeding into the waste management industry, such as for example through deposit refund schemes on items that are difficult to recycle (low-energy light bulbs, batteries, etc.). The value of EPR would be greatly enhanced by better understanding the roles and responsibilities of consumers.
- Product bans or product standards—Connected to EPR, product bans could offer a strong instrument to intervene. However, such bans were contentious and, alternatively, products standards and the inclusion of externalities in economic value were proposed.
- Mandatory recycling regimes—In support of extended producer and consumer responsibility, markets could be further directed by mandating recycling regimes. Such mandates are expected to improve the quality of recycled resources, which is an essential requirement to realise the circular economy.
- Waste Prevention Act—Waste and resource management can play an important role in carbon reductions, as supported by the Climate Change Act. Waste prevention was perceived of such importance that it should not be voluntary and, instead, should be embedded in a Waste Prevention Act.
3.2.3. Reviewing the Policy and Regulatory Framework
3.2.4. Education for Circular Economy Transition
3.3. Effective Collaboration between Academia and Government
- Identify policies and regulations linked to the research project.
- Carry out a situational analysis to understand if, and in what way, a new approach or technology could be realised within the policy and regulatory context.
- Connect solutions and recommendations explicitly to policies and regulations in a specific region.
4. Discussion: Reflections on RRfW Vision and Existing Government Strategies
4.1. Comparing the Academic and Governmental Narratives
4.2. Reflecting Upon Government Strategies in England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland
- Ecosystem stewardship and biodiversity
- Integrated governance
- Investment support for CE and resource efficient public procurement
4.2.3. Northern Ireland
4.2.5. Comparison of Waste Management, Resource Recovery, and Circular Economy
5. Conclusions and Recommendations
- Integration of economic with social and environmental values, metrics, and models; this applied to all government departments, and especially the Treasury;
- Support for secondary resource markets, for example, under the guidance of the Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), and the Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs (Defra) and their devolved counterparts;
- Policy interventions that enable innovation not just in waste processing technology but also in business models, product design, and data collection and analysis through the work of UK Research and Innovation; many of these will rely on the increased exploitation of digital and data technologies that are analogous to those in construction (e.g., CAD [computer aided design], BIM [building information modelling]) or financial technology (e.g., blockchain);
- Adoption of a whole-systems approach to analysis (aided by academics), but a recognition that the government operates in departments, and thus translation of whole-system recommendations into specific actions can be steered through key intervention points, under the leadership of the Cabinet and their devolved counterparts supported by a new Office for Resource Stewardship [26,32].
Conflicts of Interest
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|Integrating economic with social and environmental values|
|Radical change in economic theory and practice||Yes||Partly||Partly||No|
|Progress redefined to include social and environmental factors||Yes||Yes||Partly||Partly|
|Maximise environmental, social and economic value created from resources||Yes||No||Partly||No|
|Internalise or integrate environmental, social and economic metrics||Partly||No||Partly||No|
|Supporting secondary resource markets|
|Decoupling: consumption from economic growth; environmental, social and economic metrics||Yes||Yes||Yes||No|
|Keep materials in economy as long as possible||Yes||Partly||Yes||Partly|
|Incentivise/ regulate emerging secondary resource markets||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|From supplier-led to demand-led markets||Yes||Partly||No||No|
|Business model innovation vs. business as usual with improved recycling technology||Yes||Partly||Yes||Partly|
|Material and product design including end-of-life options||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Digitisation enabling recycling, but growing e-waste||Partly||No||Yes||Partly|
|Whole system approach identifying key intervention points|
|Move away from end-of-pipe approaches and higher up the waste hierarchy||Yes||Partly||Yes||Partly|
|Decarbonisation+ has to include waste and resource management||Yes||Partly||Yes||Partly|
|Enable CE through (decentralised) waste infrastructure||Yes||No||Yes||No|
|Whole system approach but identify key intervention points for targeted action||Yes||Yes||Yes||Partly|
|Realise radical change through engagement of government, industry, academia and general public||Yes||Partly||Partly||Partly|
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Velenturf, A.P.M.; Purnell, P.; Tregent, M.; Ferguson, J.; Holmes, A. Co-Producing a Vision and Approach for the Transition towards a Circular Economy: Perspectives from Government Partners. Sustainability 2018, 10, 1401. https://doi.org/10.3390/su10051401
Velenturf APM, Purnell P, Tregent M, Ferguson J, Holmes A. Co-Producing a Vision and Approach for the Transition towards a Circular Economy: Perspectives from Government Partners. Sustainability. 2018; 10(5):1401. https://doi.org/10.3390/su10051401Chicago/Turabian Style
Velenturf, Anne P. M., Phil Purnell, Mike Tregent, John Ferguson, and Alan Holmes. 2018. "Co-Producing a Vision and Approach for the Transition towards a Circular Economy: Perspectives from Government Partners" Sustainability 10, no. 5: 1401. https://doi.org/10.3390/su10051401