Resource Use

Hull University to lead EU circular economy project

Recruitment has begun for researchers to study the circular economy as part of an EU-funded project led by the University of Hull, which will examine methods of improving resource efficiency and their implications.

The project, called ‘Cresting’ (Circular Economy: Sustainability Implications and Guiding Progress), received a grant through the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Innovative Training Networks (ITN) programme, part of the EU’s Horizon 2020 programme. The ITN programme aims ‘to train a new generation of creative, entrepreneurial and innovative early-stage researchers, able to face current and future challenges and to convert knowledge and ideas into products and services for economic and social benefit’.

The €3.8-million project will train 15 early-stage researchers (PhD students) in the analysis of current circular economy practices and the process of transformation to a circular economy. While the University of Hull is leading the project, it has partners at universities across Europe and worldwide, including Utrecht, Graz, Troyes University of Technology, the ‘G. d’Annunzio’ University of Chieti-Pescara, Aberta University Lisbon and and the New University of Lisbon, as well as institutions in Nanjing, China and Ibadan, Nigeria.

In addition, Hull is working with the Waste and Recycling Action Programme (WRAP), Hull City Council and the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment, as well as a number of manufacturers and waste management companies.

The project’s co-ordinator in Hull, Dr Pauline Deutz, said: “This is a major policy strategy within the EU around resource and recycling. It’s about changing the way things are designed so they are easier to recycle, last longer or are not made with toxic matter.

“This involves building new relationships between companies, governmental bodies and the public to find ways of being cleverer in the use of resources than we currently are.”

The concept of the circular economy looks to be finally gaining momentum in Europe and beyond: this year’s World Economic Forum (WEF) Annual Meeting in Davos saw the launch of a new global initiative to implement the circular economy, with signatories from over 30 international companies comprising a net worth of around $1.3 trillion.

With EU member states also finally agreeing in January to the terms of the Circular Economy Package, which sets out among other things a binding goal of 65 per cent recycling by 2035, there have been calls for evidence that promises by governments and businesses will be translated into action. Ferran Rosa, Policy Officer at the international zero waste advocacy group Zero Waste Europe (ZWE), commented: “The text is a long list of good intentions, objectives and obligations, but only implementation will deliver substantial change.”

Measuring the impact of different approaches

According to Deutz, what is “unique” about the Cresting project is its focus on the implications of transitioning to a circular economy, with researchers examining both how legislation like the Circular Economy Package might be implemented and what the outcomes could mean in the long term: “There is a lot of research into separate components of building a circular economy, such as design and recycling, but far fewer people working on how they fit together and what these changes might mean to the economy or for society.”

With this in mind, the researchers will be working to translate their critical analysis into practical lessons for managing transition to a circular economy, asking questions such as:

  • What are the environmental, social and economic implications of developing the circular economy, and how do these vary by scale?
  • How can current circular economy practice be applied in different geographic/industry contexts?
  • What methodologies of impact measurement and sustainability indicators can be developed for public and private organisations?

Deutz continued: “If we are more effective in what we use then there can be carbon savings, but more attention needs to be paid to measuring the impacts of different approaches to resource efficiency. The most appropriate option will vary for different materials and different locations.”

ZWE also acknowledges that there is ‘no single path to become a zero waste city’. The organisation recently launched its Zero Waste Cities Masterplan, a set of tools drawing on lessons learnt by the ZWE network, which encompasses around 400 municipalities across Europe with vastly different geographical, economic and social contexts. In the latest issue of Resource magazine (Issue 91), we spoke to the Executive Director of ZWE, Joan Marc Simon, about the importance of sharing best practice from around Europe in order to make implementation of circular principles easier across the board.

While questions have been raised about how European circular economy legislation will apply to the UK post-Brexit, Simon is convinced the UK and EU will remain “very much interlinked” on this issue. The launch of the four-year Cresting project, UK-led but EU-funded and very much internationally focused, suggests that commitment to this link will be ongoing.

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