Circular economy can unlock £4bn ‘hidden’ UK reuse mine, says Veolia

Companies located in "strategically important" sectors in the UK are currently sitting on a £4bn "hidden mine" that can only be unlocked by transitioning to a circular economy that turns waste into a monetary and valuable resource, a new report from waste specialists Veolia has found.

Released today (2 November), the Imagine 2050 report highlights that the three “strategically important” sectors of manufacturing, pharmaceutical and chemical and food and beverage are currently generating a 13 million tonne “waste mine”. According to Veolia, if the waste was re-used, recycled or re-manufactured an extra £4bn could be added to the UK economy.

The report warns that population growth, technological advancements and a growing pressure to reduce carbon emissions will add external implications that shape how these sectors interact with reuse. The report subsequently highlights how each sector can boost reuse through priority changes and innovations.

Veolia’s senior executive vice-president Estelle Brachlianoff said: “The £4bn hidden value of unutilised resources in these industrial sectors is not something we can ignore. Realising this value has a double windfall – it helps businesses manage their resources more efficiently, and generates new revenue streams. 

“Adopting the innovative business models outlined in Imagine 2050 needs to happen now. Long-term planning, minimising waste and more effectively using water, energy and raw materials will help us meet the changing needs of a growing population in a sustainable way. This is at the heart of the circular economy and in Veolia’s DNA.”

The report notes that the manufacturing sector – which produces around five million tonnes of waste annually – can recover £2.8bn in hidden value found in waste streams by generating and recovering energy and water resources. By 2050 – and coupled with nanotechnology and 3D printing – these waste materials will instead act as tradable commodities with 100% recovery rates.

The pharmaceutical sector – accountable for 4.3 million tonnes of waste annually – could benefit from an £800m windfall through unutilised resources, but only if it places new financial models and design efficiency at the heart of the product concept stage. 3D printing could again aid this sector, enabling the production of medicine at mass scale at local levels.

Finally, the food and beverage sector – which produces 3.2 million tonnes annually – could recoup around £460m, as new technology helps minimise to energy costs in the production and storage phases. While what we eat may not change in 2050, the report does anticipate that the location of the foods will change as cultured meats and insects integrate into diets, which will open avenues to introduce more localised closed-loop systems.

Hidden jigsaw

Among the global megatrends that will influence how sectors interact and treat their waste is water scarcity. The report highlights that there will be a 55% increase in water demand by 2050 – which brands are already attempting to tackle – and that companies should look to introduce closed-loop models to harvest both wasted energy and water.

The warning surrounding water, amongst other global megatrends, echoes the views of Veolia’s head of circular economy Forbes McDougall, who previously told edie that energy, heat and water were often overlooked as part of the circular economy.

The launch of the report coincided with a panel discussion – featuring delegates from Veolia, BMW, Fujitsu and others – who discussed how businesses can accelerate the transition from linear waste streams to circular ones. edie will provide analysis of what was said later on this week.

Matt Mace

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