Circular economy ambition hinges on business appetite

A lack of market demand for secondary materials within the UK is starting to raise concerns among circular economy experts, especially as policy drivers appear to be on the wane.

Green Alliance associate Julie Hill, who chairs the newly-formed Circular Economy Task Force, warned that this situation might not be sustainable long-term in terms of working towards closed loop systems unless there was more government intervention.

Referring to recycling levels over past 10 years across the UK, Hill noted that increases in materials recovery were largely due to legislative levers like the landfill tax escalator and national targets, rather than end market demand.

“Is this progress self-sustaining? What will drive a circular economy?” she questioned. “Is it all about business and markets now or do we need more policy instruments? This is what the taskforce will be debating.”

Hill also pointed to the differing levels of ambition and divergent waste policies across not only the UK, but at EU and international level as being problematic.

On a deeper level, split incentives within the supply chain for materials recovery – which feeds into the resource security agenda of business – needs to be ironed out.

“The whole supply chain risk [issue] needs to be properly understood – there needs to be greater transparency,” she argued. “The more we understand about supply chain risk, the more we should want to be circular.”

She said there was a real need now for more businesses to be proactive and form supply chain partnerships to address these problems in the absence of strong legislative steers.

Hill was speaking earlier today at the European Pathway to Zero Waste conference hosted by LRS Consultancy in London.

Maxine Perella

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