The Circular Economy is turning from an academic concept in government targets and practical actions on the ground. Improving the way we deal with material resources is vital to reducing our climate change impact.
Last week I wrote about the need to move away from incineration towards a more circular economy, where material resources, like steel, glass and cardboard, are used and reused as much as possible. A new report from Friends of the Earth Scotland brings alive this move to a more circular economy with examples from around the world.
At the top level the Netherlands has set a target to reduce the use of primary raw material by half by 2030 and to have an economy that needs virtually no new materials by 2050.
The city of Amsterdam has set in motion a whole programme of initiatives which include growing much more food grow in the city itself, more being sourced from the wider region and a transition from majority meat-based consumption to majority plant-based consumption in this decade. There are also policies to extend the life of existing buildings, greater use of timber instead of steel and concrete in building projects and include the city’s inhabitant more meaningful in the decisions that affect them.
In France it has been illegal since 2016 for supermarket to dump unsold food, having instead to donate it to local charities. Last year it was revealed that Amazon in the UK was dumping millions of unsold or returned items a year. New French legislation means that, from the start of this year, it has been illegal for retailers in France to dump unsold clothing, electronic goods and household appliances.
Renault’s RE:Factory repairs, repurposes and remanufactures cars and car parts to save resources and extend the life of vehicles.
In Japan IT companies and other manufacturers are obliged to run disassembly plants where returned products are recycled and remanufactured. A similar initiative ensures rare chemicals are recovered for electric vehicle batteries.
Even on the basics of recycling there is much to learn from strategies in Wales and Ireland to turn around our falling rates here.
Of course there are some great examples here in Scotland. People often buy power tools they only use once or twice but the Edinburgh Tool Library helps people find what they need without having to own it. Sustaining Dunbar runs the Zero Waste Dunbar project, including a kind of giant secondhand shop with an amazing range of items. The Edinburgh Remakery repairs and refurbishes IT equipment and furniture, and offers workshops to help people repair everything from computers to sideboards. Not mentioned in the report but also great are the Bike Stations in Edinburgh and Perth and Bike for Good in Glasgow, which repair and refurbish donated bicycles and bike parts and sell them to the public.
There are great examples around the world and in Scotland of what a future circular economy could look like, but they are mostly only examples. We need to see repair and refurbishment outfits in every town and we need set ourselves tough targets to reduce our current shockingly wasteful use of resources.
Fortunately a consultation on a Scottish Circular Economy Bill is about to start. Let’s make sure it learns from the best in the world.
A version of this blog appeared in the Scotsman newspaper on 26th May 2020.