Circular economy 'failing' to place value on energy recovery

EXCLUSIVE: The emerging circular economy agenda is overlooking the valuable role energy-from-waste (EfW) can play, a leading industry academic has warned.

Is design-led incineration the answer? This artistic energy recovery plant in Wien in Vienna is a popular tourist attraction (photo credit: Igor Plotnikov /

Is design-led incineration the answer? This artistic energy recovery plant in Wien in Vienna is a popular tourist attraction (photo credit: Igor Plotnikov /

Professor Chris Coggins, an independent consultant, argues that the founding principles of a circular economy can be equally applied to EfW - not just through renewable power generation, but through energy efficiency relating to product design and use.

As an example, he points to research that has shown the food industry in Europe could supply up to 20% of its energy requirements in the form of electricity, heating and cooling from its own food wastes.

Despite this, Coggins claims that literature published on the circular economy since 2012 focuses "almost entirely on mineral and biogenic resources with virtually no mention of urban carbon and wastes as energy resources - neither source-segregated wastes nor residual wastes which compete and/or offset the use of fossil fuels".

Asked if he felt the circular economy movement was actively discriminating against EfW, Coggins said that waste and EfW were generally dogged by NIMBYism issues and regarded as "dirty and less glamourous" compared to that of design and manufacture.

Potential dangers

He pointed out that while the circular economy was supported by a plethora of high profile institutions such as the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures & Commerce, there is no high profile body for EfW.

"Some of those promoting the circular economy have backgrounds other than waste management," he observed. "Design and manufacturing are seen as more trendy and headline-grabbing with new products in demand by a consumer-led society."

Coggins added that there were dangers in overlooking the potential of EfW if the circular economy gained momentum, especially as energy security issues rise up the agenda.

"All sectors of the economy require energy ... and these requirements are being taken for granted," he warned. "EfW - both conventional combined heat and power, and advanced conversion technologies - offer UK-based security of supply."

He further emphasised the notion of circularity should be applied to households and businesses in the form of extended responsibility for the resource value of waste produced. This could not only contribute to energy security, but help offset concerns around NIMBYism.

Maxine Perella


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