Ten minute interview: WRAP’s Liz Goodwin

WRAP chief executive Liz Goodwin took time out during her organisation's annual conference to talk to Maxine Perella about her thoughts on how the circular economy is shaping up

The circular economy debate has really accelerated over the past 12 months. But very different levels of knowledge still persist around this subject – what can WRAP do to help harmonise thinking in this area?

It’s about trying to start telling that story. We’ve always had a mismatch between some people at the leading edge and some people miles behind, even when we starting collecting certain materials [for recycling] like plastic bottles – there were people in completely different places. We needed to find a way of telling the story and I think that is one of the roles that WRAP has.

One of the things I was trying to do this morning was articulate that story about the circular economy. I think some of the leading waste management companies are there, but you are right, there are some others who have got some way to go. It’s about finding some common language that everyone can buy into, that helps us get to where we are today to where we need to get to in the future.

When we talk about sustainability and the circular economy, consumer engagement and issues around behavioural change seem to be the elephant in the room. Do you think it is important for consumer groups to start attending events like this?

There is certainly potential in the future to do that. We had an expert on our panel discussion today to give us a consumer angle, which was quite important as a way into that. There are certainly a lot of things that businesses and government can do without the consumer necessarily needing to know, but at the end of the day we do need some consumer behaviour change and it’s about how we influence that most effectively. Some input from consumers would be helpful at that stage, I am sure.

You touched upon future business models and new ways of working in a circular economy, but warned that we are still a long way from seeing models that will really make a difference. Where do you think such reinvention will come from, ultimately?

We don’t yet know. I encourage the teams working on business models within WRAP to remember that we are not going to be the ones who come up with these ideas – we need to go out and stimulate other, more creative people within businesses to do that. What we can do is act as a facilitator and give them the space to do that.

And do you see an appetite for such an undertaking within those businesses you deal with?

It’s a mixed bag. Some businesses are definitely within that space – Marks & Spencer, Kingfisher, Samsung are all now thinking seriously about new business models, which is encouraging.

As we move towards a circular economy, many are predicting a future battle over resources. Would you agree with this?

I think there could be a resource battle and we need to think about what are some of the drivers and incentives that might control or influence that. We also need to have a proper debate about what materials should be reused, recycled or sent to energy-from-waste.

Lastly, where would you like the debate to be 12 months from now?

Well I hope we would be on our way out of the economic downturn and I would like to see a wider group of people including the Treasury actually understand that resource efficiency and the circular economy is the way to get out of this recession.

Maxine Perella is Waste Market Editor of edie

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