Resource Use

Circular economy could boost UK economy by £75bn, says WRAP

A circular economy will help the UK build back better, bolstering the economy by £75 billion and creating half a million jobs, according to the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP).

Releasing its ‘Six steps to build a better economy’ today (29 June), WRAP outlines that a circular transition has the potential to rebuild a sustainable and resilient economy going forward after the Covid-19 pandemic, especially with the UK’s exit from the EU on the horizon.

The economic fallout from the coronavirus crisis looks likely to push the UK economy into its deepest recession in 300 years, with the UK’s economic output plunging by 11.5 per cent in 2020, leading to widespread company closures and job losses, according to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

Aside from addressing structural employment across the country by fostering 500,000 jobs and injecting £75 billion to the economy, WRAP reports that a circular business model, which sees materials kept in circulation throughout the economy for as long as possible, would mean 15 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions are avoided, the equivalent to taking one out of five cars off the road.

Additionally, harnessing the potential of a circular transition could deliver 21 million tonnes in material savings and over 38 million tonnes of waste diverted from landfill.

The EU-funded REBus project ‘Extrapolating resource efficient business models across Europe’, in which WRAP was the lead project partner, has provided the basis of these findings.

WRAP calls on policy makers to take “immediate steps” to lock in circularity to a post-Covid recovery and outlines six steps needed to rebuild the economy and safeguard natural resources:

  1. Accelerate the move towards a circular economy, with a focus on those operations such as remanufacturing and repair which generate new net jobs and can help tackle structural unemployment.
  2. Governments, regions, cities and regions throughout the UK adopting a ‘Target, Measure, Act’ approach to increasing the circularity of their activities/operations.
  3. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) provide stakeholders with greater certainty by publishing progress reports on the implementation of the Resources and Waste, Industrial and Clean Growth strategies by the end of 2020.
  4. Make UK Government support to businesses with a large material footprint contingent upon the businesses adopting a ‘Target, Measure, Act’ approach to increasing the circularity of their activities/operations.
  5. Introduce targeted policy, financial and business support and citizen engagement to drive a more circular economy.
  6. UK Government and the UK banking sector consider reviewing their approaches to providing financial support to businesses to ensure they are not disadvantaging circular businesses.

Growing calls for circular transition

Calls are growing for the government to accelerate the transition to a circular economy as part of a Covid-19 recovery plan especially with the impending uncertainty surrounding the UK’s exit from the EU later this year.

Last week, The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) highlighted the importance of a circular recovery for safeguarding the UK’s net-zero targets. As it stands, the UK Government has failed to deliver on 14 of its 21 climate progress indicators.

Earlier this month, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation published a joint statement with the backing of over 50 global leaders, emphasising the value of the circular economy post-pandemic in creating solutions that combine economic opportunity with benefits to wider society and the environment. Amongst the signatories were WRAP, The Coca-Cola Company, PepsiCo, Unilever, H&M, Novamont and Barclays Bank UK.

An open letter coordinated by the Real Circularity Coalition written by 30 global experts pressed world leaders to make the Covid-19 crisis a watershed moment for the transition to a circular economy where materials and resources are kept in use for as long as possible, with resources only being used if they are 100 per cent recyclable or reusable. It stressed “the economic response to the crisis must be executed in line with our global sustainability goals and put green stimulus measures front and centre”.

Commenting on the steps outlined by WRAP Marcus Gover, CEO, said: “WRAP has a 20-year history of partnering with the government, but never have we seen such a need – and such an opportunity – to adopt a circular economy in the UK. We urge policy makers here and internationally to recognise its potential as a catalyst for job creation and growth, and we call on them to take immediate steps to lock in circularity to their post-Covid recovery plans.”

You can read WRAP’s full report on a circular recovery on its website.