UK home to world’s first UN-backed centre for circular economy research

Recognising British ‘world-class academic expertise and cutting-edge scientific research’, the UK will establish the world’s first United Nations-backed International Centre of Excellence on Sustainable Resource Management in the Circular Economy, Resources Minister Robbie Moore announced today (Tuesday 27 February).

scrap metal circular economyOpening in April 2024, the new centre aims to develop sustainable approaches to both the circular economy and resource efficiency, in order to drive carbon reduction and ‘the transition to a greener future’.

Comprising five institutions – University College London (UCL), University of Exeter, Brunel University London, Swansea University and the British Geological Survey – the new centre plans to help countries across the world transition towards the circular economy, and reap the environmental and economic benefits that the circular economy offers.

The five institutions have together contributed £1.85 million in funding towards the centre’s technical activities.

The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) – one of the five regional commissions of the United Nations, existing to promote pan-European economic integration – will support the establishment of the centre in the UK, with a Government-funded UNECE research manager based in Geneva coordinating the coalition.

The centre’s focus will be on areas such as metals, construction and critical minerals ‘to develop effective data, technological innovation, finance models and policy’.

Building on circular economy research

The centre will build on the contributions of partner institutions involved in the National Interdisciplinary Circular Economy Research (NICER) programme, a four-year £30 million initiative launched in 2021 to accelerate the UK’s shift to a circular economy.

In July 2023, Defra released a policy paper outlining its plans to prevent waste in England. The policy paper titled 'The waste prevention programme for England: Maximising Resources, Minimising Waste' acknowledged the finite nature of our resources, and the importance of maximising the use of these resources and minimising their waste. The paper outlined the government's commitment to changing society's relationship with resources and outlined three key themes for policy approach:

  • Designing out waste: This includes ecodesign and consumer information requirements, and Extended Producer Responsibility schemes.
  • Systems and services: This includes collection/take-back services, encouraging reuse, repair, leasing businesses and facilities.
  • Data and information: This includes materials databases, product passports, and voluntary corporate reporting.


Speaking on the launch of the new Centre of Excellence, Resources Minister Robbie Moore said: “This is real recognition of the UK’s global leadership in sustainable resource management and testament to Britain’s world-leading academic expertise.

“We are delighted to host this centre, enabling our cutting-edge UK academics to develop the tools and research that will help countries across the world seize the opportunities of the circular economy, leading the way in the transition to a greener future.”

UNECE Executive Secretary Tatiana Molcean said: “Making the use of our resources more sustainable and moving towards a circular economy is fundamental to sustainable development and climate action.

“Partnerships mobilising international expertise play an important role in UN cooperation to develop and share best practices. I welcome the establishment of this new Centre of Excellence, with its focus on circularity of metals, construction and critical raw materials.”