Goodwin warned delegates at a Sustainable Business conference on resource scarcity in London this week (April 30) that the UK economy was failing to make the most use of its resources.

She said that new business models were required so that the UK could extract maximum value from its materials and recover and regenerate the component parts and materials at the end of life.

“Our figures show that in 2010, of the 540 million tonnes of material that entered the UK economy, only 117 million tonnes was recycled,” she said.

Goodwin asked delegates to imagine a world where the UK’s net exports increased by more than £20bn by 2020 and where 10,000 new jobs would be created in the recycling sector.

“These huge benefits are attainable,” she added. “They are ours for the taking, if we were to embrace the potential offered by a circular economy approach to the way in which we design, manufacture and consume. It’s the complete opposite of the ‘make, use, throw away’ culture of today.”

She warned that if the global economy continued to consume resources at its current rate, it would need three times more material resources by 2050. This was neither sustainable nor conceivable.

Goodwin also highlighted the threats of price volatility, resource scarcity and increasing commodity prices to profit generation.

Drawing on WRAP’s work, she said delivering its 2020 vision would improve the UK’s trade balance and business competitiveness and also contribute to additional exports.

She said the opportunity for the greatest impact could be found in buildings and infrastructure, in food and drink and in products such as electrical and textiles.

“If we were to develop and incorporate better design of buildings to enable them to be dismantled and ‘repurposed’ and reduce the quantity of ‘virgin’ materials used, we could reduce our reliance on materials by 15%,” she said.

Goodwin pointed out that reducing supply chain food waste could deliver an increase in sales of up to £1bn a year and save almost £3bn in avoided disposal costs.

She concluded that it was important to grow innovative businesses that extended product lifetimes as this could reduce material demand by 15%. This was particularly important to critical materials.

Nick Warburton

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