UK could lead world in circular economy thinking

Shadow waste minister Gavin Shuker has pledged to help the UK become a circular economy "world leader" if Labour get elected back into power.

According to Shuker, government “can do more to design out waste” by fostering an advanced design community committed to exploring new models of resource efficiency that will be vital to the country’s long term growth.

Speaking at the Resource & Waste Management show in Birmingham today, the minister said Labour was embarking on an extensive policy review that will examine the role of government procurement standards in encouraging greener manufacturing.

“Decisions on waste and resources not only impact this sector, but the very growth of the UK economy as a whole. We will not duck this challenge,” he told delegates.

He added that the design stage of manufacturing was crucial, and needed to be addressed.

“Small changes can make a big difference to the repairability and recyclability of products – but they must be made at the design stage,” he argued.

Speaking to edie afterwards, Shuker said it was about “giving design processes proper circularity” and that the role of government should be to help model ways to help the economy achieve this.

“As a government we procurement a massive amount of products, but we rarely require them to meet sustainable standards. We could also perhaps look at not buying certain products or services, but leasing them instead,” he said.

“If you look at the US government, they require that 95% of the electronics products they purchase meet EPEAT standards. We need to look at ways to incentivise the design of these products so we don’t end up throwing them away … procurement is one way,” he added.

Shuker recently visited Virgin Atlantic to look at how the airline company was dealing with pushing its cabin waste further up the hierarchy in terms of reuse and repair.

He said Virgin’s policy of bringing together end-of-life reprocessors with product designers to debate material use and disassembly for reuse was a great example of best practice that could be shared across other industries.

“We are already world leaders in industrial design, we could equally be world leaders in designing out waste,” he added.

Under its policy review, Labour also plans to bring England’s national recycling targets in line with those of Wales and Scotland, and consult on the idea of setting up an Office of Resource Efficiency to help join up government thinking on issues of resource scarcity.

Maxine Perella

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