Resource Use

Robin Murray 1940 - 2017

A big thank you to Professor Robin Murray – A view from a fellow Zero Waster, Mal Williams 

Obituary: Robin Murray 1940 - 2017
Robin Murray 1940 - 2017
Robin Murray 14 September 1940 – 29 May 2017

Professor Robin Murray was an inspiration for and avid supporter of the Zero Waste movement that he, more than anyone, helped to achieve credibility in the early noughties when the mob was screaming: “There will always be waste - zero waste is impossible.”

We tree huggers and yoghurt weavers, recycling for decades before it was written into statutes; we with practical experience in collecting materials for recycling – mostly to raise money for good causes – owe him a deep debt of gratitude for his scholarly contributions at that crucial time.

Robin turned his hand to many passions and was an industrial and environmental economist by trade, studying at Balliol College, Oxford, and at the London School of Economics, before teaching Economics at the London Business School, before moving to the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex as a Fellow between 1972 and 1993. He also made a return to the London School of Economics as a Visiting Research Associate.

His academic reputation and vision brought him many admirers not just from among his peers, but from a wide range of governments, providing consultancy services on industrial and development issues, as well as a serving as Director of Industry in the Great London Council in the 1980s and as a Director of Development in the Government of Ontario in the 1990s.

But it was his work on waste that he will be most remembered for, at least among those of us who continue to carry the torch. His first book, ‘Creating Wealth from Waste’, published by Demos in 1999, set the tone about discarded materials having value. That was quickly followed by ‘Zero Waste’, published by Greenpeace in 2002, that demonstrated that the creation of waste is mankind’s big mistake, that we create waste in a way that no other organism on this planet does and that, if we can create it, we can stop creating it – completely.

Zero Waste is a global movement now and such is its power that the big bad corporates are claiming it as their own – but adding ‘to Landfill’ to completely negate the concept and leave them free to sell incinerators and burn waste instead. Needless to say Robin had no truck with that.

The last twenty years has seen major developments in recycling as many a photograph of a street full of bins and ridiculous Daily Mail headlines will attest. During that time Robin has been steadfast in carrying the messages of his work to decision makers around the world, whether they be in London, his home town, in Kaitaia, New Zealand, at the inaugural Zero Waste conference in 2000 where he received rousing applause and his 10 steps to Zero Waste plan was born (Robin liked 10 steps to everything), or in Brussels, with the sobering experience of a presentation to Eurocrats being simultaneously translated into fifteen languages – no room for light-hearted references there, I can attest.

History will show that the Zero Waste movement, the sustainability issue and the whole notion of the Circular Economy are inextricably linked. They are all making quiet progress despite the heavy resistance from the forces of the status quo. Robin Murray played a really important part in all of that by giving the whole subject of waste an intellectual respectability that it previously lacked.

Thank you Robin – I promise that we will read poems for you.

Mal Williams is Director of the Zero Waste International Trust