UK Leasing

Can the UK build a sustainable circular economy?

Illustration by Tracy Worrall

Georgina Bailey

7 min read

Movements towards the circular economy are accelerating in the UK. Georgina Bailey explores what this can mean for consumers, businesses and government.

The climate and ecological crisis has changed the way we look at many things: even the simple pleasures of life can be problematic. According to the Spanish food company Gruppo ARCE, a bottle of Verdejo is responsible for around 1.28 kg of CO2 emissions. More than two-thirds of these emissions come from packaging and transport, and 39% from the glass bottle alone.

“The wine industry is more deeply affected by the climate crisis than most, and wine travels around the world through complex and modern supply chains,” says Santiago Navarro, co-founder of Boy Wines. The problem is not unique to wine, but rather represents what green groups suggest is a larger problem of overconsumption of natural resources and a lack of large-scale innovation to address it.

According to the UN, resource extraction and processing accounts for 90% of biodiversity loss and water stress in the world. If the rest of the world were to consume resources at the rate of the UK, three Earths would be needed to supply them.

Boy Wines is one of many companies taking a different approach to the resources they use, part of what is known as the “circular economy”.

“The circular economy is better understood compared to the current economy, which is linear,” says Libby Peake, Green Alliance resource manager. “In today’s economy, we take materials out of the ground, we make something out of them, we use them, sometimes very briefly. Then either we send them back to the ground [in landfill], or in smoke by incineration. There is recycling, although it is not at the level it could be.

“[In] the circular economy, recycling is the last step you want to take. Things are reused first, then repaired and repackaged, and then once the products themselves cannot be salvaged, you start to think about recycling the materials in them.

“Everyone has a role to play, but [consumers, businesses, and government] are mutually reinforcing “

Patrick Mahon, Chief Strategic Advisor at WRAP

For Boy Wines, that means using 100% recycled PET (a highly recyclable plastic) to make their bottles, which are light and flat to save space during packaging, shipping and presentation.

Many believe the government needs to do more to encourage other companies to follow suit.

“Everyone has a role to play, but [consumers, businesses, and government] reinforce each other, ”says Patrick Mahon, chief strategic advisor at WRAP. He believes the starting point should be the government setting the framework, so moving to the circular economy is “the sensible thing businesses need to do, what consumers are encouraged to do.”

So what could the circular economy look like in the UK? Waste experts agree this would involve some ‘shifting of choices’, with less resource-efficient products being taken off the market, either through bans or incentives for consumers and businesses.

One element of the government’s waste prevention plan is Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) for packaging, which is currently in consultation.

The EPR’s proposals are based on the “polluter pays” principle, with packaging producers, rather than local authorities, being responsible for the total cost of managing packaging waste, at an estimated cost of 2, £ 7 billion a year.

Modified fees for companies based on the recyclability of packaging would help finance waste management by local authorities and the upgrading of national recycling infrastructure. Producers should also provide ‘clear and consistent’ information, not only on whether packaging is technically recyclable, but whether it is widely recycled.

One of the goals of the proposals, which are expected to come into effect in 2023, is to encourage packaging manufacturers to produce less or use more environmentally friendly packaging and to make it easier for consumers to recycle.

However, Dick Searle, managing director of the Packaging Federation, believes that there is an imbalance in the way packaging is treated compared to other polluters. He puts the total cost of the government’s current proposals to UK producers at nearly £ 5bn, a cost that UK industry – with a workforce of 85,000 and sales of £ 11bn per an – can not afford.

“The global warming impact of packaging in the food and beverage supply chain is 3%. When are we going to hear something about the action on the remaining 97%? Searle said. He argues that 85% of packaging currently on the market is already easily recyclable – and if it isn’t, it’s normally for storing goods.

“We strongly support the concept of circular economy; my industry is ready to play its part in making it work. But I think it’s a huge hammer to crack a nut, ”Searle says of the proposals.

From 2025, the government will review targets to incentivize packaging reuse, and the EPR will likely be extended to other products. A consultation on textiles is scheduled for the end of the year, as the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) has already gathered evidence as part of its Fixing Fashion investigation.

Sustainable fashion trends could provide clear models for the circular economy. One-third of British 18-24 year olds are now registered with the Depop clothing resale platform, and clothing rental company HURR recently launched a collaboration with Selfridges. A Dutch company, Circos, is modeling how this might work for baby clothes and maternity wear, with users selecting age and size lots which they will then exchange for a new lot when the child or woman becomes pregnant. will have exceeded them.

Mahon and Peake both believe that the rental and leasing markets in different sectors will continue to develop. This already includes carsharing apps, furniture, tools and electronics. Philips even started offering light as a service: instead of a company buying the luminaires, they signed a contract for the supply of light. This long-lasting approach means that Philips retains ownership of the fixtures and can repair, refurbish and reuse them.

Another regulatory model is the use of ecodesign standards. Over the past 15 years, European Union regulations have set minimum design standards for the energy efficiency of certain household and industrial appliances, such as light bulbs and vacuum cleaners – “one of the most important environmental policies. success stories never achieved by the EU in terms of reducing emissions. , as well as savings, ”says Peake.

“There has to be a penalty for the producer if that is their business model. They have to design phones to last 10 years, like you design an automobile.”

Philip Dunne MP, Chairman of the Environmental Audit Committee

The government recently announced that it would adopt new EU regulations on resource efficiency standards for certain household appliances, televisions and computer monitors. Starting this summer, manufacturers must ensure that spare parts to repair products are available for at least seven years and easily accessible to a professional repairer – a move that has been widely welcomed.

In its response to the November 2020 EAC report on e-waste, the government said it was considering extending repairability regulations to other products, as well as the possibility of modular repairability, where products can be easily broken down into parts which are then repaired, replaced. or upgraded as needed. It may also require that product labels include repairability ratings and product life information.

Philip Dunne, president of the EAC, would also like to see coordinated action from international governments to tackle inherent product obsolescence by global technology companies.

“This is really Apple’s modus operandi: a minor product improvement gives an excuse for a new version. If they know the old one will need to be replaced within two or three years, then you are constantly increasing the growth of your market, ”says Dunne. “There has to be a penalty for the producer if that’s their business model. They have to design products to last 10 years, like you design an automobile. The phones should be the same. While battery life can naturally erode over time, you need to be able to change it to breathe new life into your product. ”

The global debate on the circular economy is accelerating and, over the next decade, governments will need to create the framework for circular businesses to thrive, as they compete with long-standing businesses in the linear economy. If successful, future issues of The House may well be written on refurbished laptops, sitting on refurbished furniture, based on phone calls that have lasted 10 years instead of two, and by the light that has been praised.

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