With the Festival of Circular Economy returning for its 3rd year on the 15 and 16 November, Circular Online brings you live updates and news over the two days.
Circular economy roadmap: What is the way forward?
“Ideas plus waste equals opportunity,” Shayler said to open the panel.
Harriet Lamb, CEO, WRAP, discussed how energised she was by the Festival’s international flavour, saying she loved the idea the UK is able to learn from so many countries, cities, and innovations around the world.
Mark Shayler then asked the panel where are seeing successful collaboration globally?
Wayne Hubbard, CEO of ReLondon, said he loved working with communities, particularly at a neighbourhood level in the capital. The local level is an example of where collaboration is happening right now that is making a meaningful difference, Hubbard said.
“I’m really excited about the principles that we can apply to all neighbourhoods despite their differences,” Hubbard said.
As the conversation developed, Lamb warned that the industry hasn’t made the circular economy a mainstream proposition, saying it won’t win votes on the doorsteps.
Government could transform the circular economy. They put the baseline that lets the industry leaders flourish.
It’s down to industry to ensure the public are aware of the concept and, more importantly, want to see it implemented. When that happens, Lamb said transitioning to a circular economy will appear in the manifestos of political parties as the public want to vote for these policies.
“Government could transform the circular economy. They put the baseline that lets the industry leaders flourish,” Lamb said.
Reflecting on the festival, Shayler asked the panel what they were most excited about from over the last two days?
Dr David Greenfield, Vice President – External Affairs, Circular Economy Institute (CEI), highlighted the innovative businesses which are being founded every day. He emphasised that start-ups are more than interesting ideas to talk about, they’re run by the people driving real and meaningful change.
“We have lots of passion and expertise but we need to get this talent in front of decisionmakers for real change to happen,” Greenfield said.
“The godfather of the circular economy” Walter Stahel
Introduced by the host of the Festival Mark Shayler as the “godfather of the circular economy”, Walter R. Stahel is a Swiss architect who has been massively influential in the development of circular thinking.
Through his early advocacy for the reuse and repair of products, Stahel, a Member of the Strategic Foresight Board, was a pioneer of the field of sustainability. In his keynote presentation, Stahel discussed how we can overcome the challenges of growing the circular economy.
Why do we need a circular economy? Stahel said it’s about risk management. Stahel took delegates back to where the problem with consumption began. He said society has consistently overlooked producer liability and the fact that all waste is man-made.
Stahel explained to Festival delegates that the circular economy tackles 4 societal problems. The concept is low waste, low carbon, low anthropogenic mass, and focused on loss prevention.
The circular economy can only happen through scarcity or conscious decisions.
“Caring for and enjoying belongings you have. This has the impact of preserving materials,” Stahel said. “The circular economy can only happen through scarcity or conscious decisions.”
Some of the ways a low-waste society can be achieved is through behavioural changes and policymakers adapting framework conditions, such as not taxing renewable resources, Stahel said.
He also emphasised the importance of business models rewarding “more from less for a longer time”, which he said means decoupling wealth creation from resource consumption.
Where circularity fits in regenerative businesses
In this insightful presentation, Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, Global Leader of Climate & Energy, WWF explored how much the principles of regenerative systems are related to the circular economy.
“By promoting regenerative systems, we’re encouraging adaptation and resilience,” Pulgar-Vidal told Festival delegates.
To achieve net zero by 2050, we have to transition energy, industry, infrastructure. This is the only way we can move our actions towards systemic change, Pulgar-Vidal said.
Pulgar-Vidal also took delegates through how regenerating nature will work within the concept of what we understand currently. Festival attendees also heard about where the circular economy fits in the regenerative businesses conversation.
The Path to Net-Zero: “New Challenges and Opportunities for Innovation”
On Day 2 of the 2023 Festival of Circular Economy, hosted by CIWM, industry leaders gathered to discuss the transition to net-zero emissions, providing a plethora of insights and realistic roadmaps for a sustainable future.
The conference underscored the synergy between the circular economy and net-zero targets, emphasising immediate action and long-term strategies.
Valerie Lim of IoT Tribe and the Net Zero Tech Alliance moderated a panel that delved into the practicalities of achieving net-zero.
Sam Jackson from Ecologi highlighted the importance of emission reductions in line with the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) framework and discussed Ecologi’s approach to tackling Scope 3 emissions through impactful global climate projects and sustainable business practices.
Dr. Stephen Wise of Advetec spoke about the importance of clarity in emissions reduction, particularly for small businesses, and how their technology aids businesses in managing indirect emissions through practical waste management strategies.
Björn Bülow Appelqvis from Vestforbrænding emphasised the role of the waste and resource management sector in supporting other industries towards sustainability, advocating for a mix of low-tech and high-tech solutions to advance global sustainability efforts.
Matthew Willis from the Carbon Trust shared insights on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on carbon reduction through changes in work habits and discussed the importance of emission mapping and investment roadmaps in realising net-zero ambitions.
Lastly, Gary Miciunas from Cuningham Group Architecture Inc. discussed the ‘whole building approach’ to emissions reduction, integrating lifecycle considerations and material reuse in alignment with circular economy principles.
The panel concluded that while the journey to net-zero is complex, with challenges such as the need for behavioural changes and holistic education on waste segregation, it is also filled with opportunities for innovation and transformative shifts in sustainability practices.
As the focus shifts to COP28, the insights shared at the Festival of Circular Economy provide a valuable foundation for discussions on how to harness the circular economy to deliver on net-zero promises and beyond.
Connecting with the Next Generation of Talent
“In real terms, the sector needs to more than triple in size in ten years to transition to a circular economy. We need a broad range of people with a broad range of ideas, so innovation can happen,” Cockburn said.
Opening the discussions, moderator Dr Adam Reed asked how can we encourage people to take green skills courses.
Katie Cockburn, Professional Services Director, CIWM, said that she spoke to her 15-year-old daughter in the morning who told her that her friends don’t know what the circular economy is. Cockburn said that this is because the sector currently isn’t speaking to young people in a language they engage with and understand.
She highlighted the importance of using the right narrative to explain the circular economy, which Cockburn thought could be that the transition is critical to combat climate change. “We need to provide multiple entry points and skills pathways,” she said.
Peter Ramsey, Campaign Manager – Circular Economy, Business in the Community, said businesses are recognising the need to speak to different groups. As part of doing this, businesses need to appeal to people’s own values and unlock barriers that are preventing communities from making a difference in the sector.
We need a broad range of people with a broad range of ideas, so innovation can happen.
Traci Lewis, Co-Founder and Director of Catalyse Change CIC, said her business found it easier to connect with young people through campaigns on Instagram rather than going into schools. She said the challenge is showcasing the scale of the problem and how students can be part of innovative solutions.
“Diversity is key for sustainability and key for making business changes,” Lewis said.
Ramsey continued that the term green skills can be misleading as we’re not necessarily talking about skills but a culture. A theme that has been reflected throughout the festival – the circular economy isn’t about an individual role, it requires an industry-wide culture change.
“We need to frame green jobs and green skills as the roles helping companies transition to net zero,” Ramsey said.
Cockburn picked the dialogue by explaining that currently, we have core circular jobs, enabling circular jobs, and in-direct circular jobs. However, she said true transition means having sustainability built into every job. Cockburn also highlighted CIWM’s Skills Matrix tool which allows people to understand the specific skills they need.
“Every job should be a climate job,” Lewis echoed.
Read then put an audience question to the panel and ask if is it time to get rid of the word waste.
Cockburn said the answer is to find a language that people in a way they engage with and understand. “Whether or not it needs to drop, is a decision that needs to be made along the journey,” she concluded.
Green Skills: Lessons from The Gambia
The Gambia’s journey towards a circular economy has received a significant boost, with WasteAid addressing crucial skills gaps in The Gambia, as highlighted by Michelle Wilson at the 2023 Festival of Circular Economy.
The challenges facing The Gambia are multifaceted: a glaring lack of waste management infrastructure, particularly in urban centres; educational limitations in green and basic business skills within its entrepreneurial community; and a limited technical capacity, underscored by the importation of materials such as PET bottles.
Financial support from the Chartered Institution of Wastes Management (CIWM) has been instrumental in fostering initiatives designed to empower local Gambian entrepreneurs and innovators.
WasteAid has implemented comprehensive training programmes, imparting practical skills in areas ranging from value chain approaches for plastics to composting and the creation of circular business models, all customised to the specific needs of the local populace.
In Michelle Wilson’s presentation, she revealed WasteAid places a strong emphasis on business education, teaching essential concepts such as profit and loss accounting, and guiding investment decisions. By enabling access to investment opportunities through competitions and mentorship programmes, WasteAid is nurturing a fertile environment for entrepreneurship.
Knowledge and technical skills exchanges between the UK and The Gambia are also part of this developmental blueprint, further supported by CIWM on its member-only only community platform, CIWM Connect.
The impact of these interventions is evident. There is a growing employment market in resource recovery and recycling, stimulating income growth and fostering sustainable livelihoods. Entrepreneurs are being equipped to expand their businesses, contributing to the local economy and community welfare.
The Gambia’s distinct context, marked by an eager presence of entrepreneurial spirit and green initiatives, sets it apart. WasteAid’s approach to building upon the existing local frameworks, complemented by CIWM’s financial support, exemplifies a collaborative model for sustainable development.
New Study Reveals Alarming Consumer Blind Spots in Battery Disposal
Survey by Stuff4Life highlights the urgent need for better consumer awareness and design reforms in battery disposal practices.
In a revealing presentation at the 2023 Festival of Circular Economy, John Twitchen (pictured top right), the founder and consultant of Stuff4Life, brought to light the critical gaps in consumer awareness regarding battery disposal.
The whitepaper presented, based on a survey of over 2,000 adults, calls for a pressing policy change to mitigate the environmental impact of hazardous waste.
The study unveiled that while consumers feel confident disposing of regular batteries, their certainty declines sharply when it comes to high-powered or embedded batteries. Often, valuable small electronics are traded in, but items like rechargeable toothbrushes frequently end up in trash bins, posing fire risks.
Alarmingly, the research indicated a pervasive lack of understanding about the dangers of improper battery disposal. Videos showing the hazards made little dent in the consumer consciousness, highlighting the ineffectiveness of current information campaigns and compliance measures.
The frustration with product design was palpable among consumers who wish to make responsible choices but are thwarted by designs that incorporate inherent dangers. The study suggests that simplistic logos advising against binning products are insufficient.
In an optimistic turn, the research found robust support for a deposit return scheme for batteries, signalling a potential shift towards better product design, consumer value, and environmental outcomes.
UNEP Leader Champions Sustainable Business Models at Circular Economy Festival
In a compelling presentation at on Day 2 of the Festival of Circular Economy, Jorge Laguna-Celis (pictured), the Head of the One Planet Network at the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), underscored the critical need for sustainable consumption and production patterns.
Amidst a backdrop of increasing consumer demand for eco-friendly products, Laguna-Celis pressed companies to provide clear and transparent sustainability information to foster a dedicated consumer base and enhance product sustainability.
Laguna-Celis pointed out that to truly revolutionise the market, embracing digital tools such as artificial intelligence and blockchain is non-negotiable. These technologies promise to transform the traceability and management of materials, optimising resource use, and tackling prevalent issues like food waste head-on.
He emphasised the significant role of the workforce in this transition, advocating for the development of their skills to ensure they remain at the forefront of this technological revolution.
By doing so, companies will not only enhance their systems and outputs but also promote a more equitable distribution of resources and responsible stewardship.
Concluding his address, Laguna-Celis reiterated his conviction that sustainable business models are the future, with the circular economy paving the way.
He expressed his anticipation for innovative approaches by companies in the use of digital technologies and conveyed his excitement to engage with industry leaders in future events.
The Festival of Circular Economy continues to spark dialogue and action towards a more sustainable future, with leaders like Laguna-Celis at the helm inspiring change and commitment among global stakeholders.
Experts Weigh in on the Circular Economy’s Progress and Prospects
As the world grapples with the escalating climate concerns and resource scarcity, the circular economy’s role in creating sustainable futures is a focal point at the 2023 Festival of Circular Economy, hosted by CIWM. Leading experts convened to dissect the current state of circular practices, the roadblocks encountered, and the innovations leading the way.
Mark Shayler, renowned author and circular economy expert, moderated the panel, setting the stage for the discussion. Shayler, who underscored the value of patience and steady growth with his apt metaphor, “The strongest wood comes from the slowest growing trees in the forest,” urged for a measured approach towards progress.
Reflecting on the last decade, Ben Withers, Associate Director of Waste Management at WSP, UK, critiqued the slow pace of action and highlighted the risk of a ‘lost decade’ amidst other pressing global issues. He emphasised the importance of maintaining momentum and public engagement to keep circular initiatives from becoming mere trends.
In the construction sector, Withers pointed out a dual focus on reducing costs and managing waste but noted a significant oversight in the non-circular impact of construction waste. He advocated for refurbishment over demolition, citing both environmental and economic benefits, and called for more comprehensive carbon accounting practices.
Dr. David Greenfield, Vice President of External Affairs at the Circular Economy Institute (CEI), called for enhanced collaboration across disciplines to overcome ‘friendly fire’—actions that inadvertently create barriers to circularity. He highlighted the Tech Tank initiative, which exemplifies the social and environmental value of circular practices through recycling technological devices and promoting digital inclusion.
Sophie Thomas, Designer in Resource Efficiency and Founder of etsaW Ventures, stressed the urgency of the climate emergency and the need for a significant shift in investment models.
Sophie Thomas – “We need to see a big shift in the way we invest. The traditional model is not circular. It’s a very linear model.”
Thomas highlighted the ‘great recovery’ concept and the importance of design for reuse in tackling the complexities of the circular economy. She also pointed out the potential of urban mining and e-waste as a resource-rich but underutilised field, requiring a redesign of products and systems for better material recovery.
Matt Manning, Head of Circular Economy at BT Group, discussed the interconnection between climate change, biodiversity, and the circular economy. He highlighted the tendency of consumers to hold onto old devices, which poses a challenge to recycling and refurbishment efforts.
Manning also shed light on the positive impacts of BT’s refurbishment operations and the need to overcome misconceptions about the quality of refurbished equipment.
The panellists’ collective insights paint a picture of a circular economy at a crossroads, with evident challenges but also burgeoning opportunities.
As industries and policymakers strive to align their strategies with circular principles, the call for a concerted, collaborative, and innovative approach has never been clearer.
Designing for a better world: Innovation and opportunity
“All creativity is, is imagining a world that hasn’t arrived yet,” Shayler said. “We wouldn’t imagine a worse world, we’d imagine a fairer world.”
Moderator Mark Shayler, author and circular economy expert, opened the conversation by emphasising the crucial role he believes designers will play in a circular economy. This is because, Shayler says, creativity and innovation will be at the forefront of the transition to a circular economy.
Shayler sparked the conversation by asking if designers have embraced circularity as an opportunity?
Anouk Zeeuw van der Laan, research & design consultant for the circular economy, said yes they have embraced the opportunity but this has sometimes been done for the wrong reasons. Some companies are using circular design as a marketing tool rather than a change agent, she explained.
John Twitchen, founder/consultant, Stuff4Life, tackled the question from a different perspective and emphasised the importance of understanding why designers make the choices they make.
All creativity is, is imagining a world that hasn’t arrived yet.
When designing for a circular economy, Twitchen said it’s crucial to have a clear understanding of every choice made in the design process. Twitchen also highlighted the importance of reverse engineering as a tool for showcasing today’s problems and tomorrow’s opportunities for designers.
Focusing the design on the right element for the right product is essential, Amy Peace, innovation lead, circular economy, Innovate UK, said. Rather than thinking about the best way to incorporate recycled materials, Peace argued for lifecycle thinking to ensure designers are putting their efforts into the right component of a product to extend its life and reduce its environmental impact.
The biggest win is reducing consumption by making sure products last twice as long, Mark Miodownik, professor of materials & society, UCL, said. This prompted the question: why do consumers keep having to buy products regularly?
Miodownik said this is because designers aren’t winning the argument with boardrooms. He claimed corporate decision-makers are being dragged kicking and screaming towards a circular economy by legislation, such as Right to Repair, which is slowing the pace of progress.
Lucia McDermott, chartered resource and waste manager, Mott MacDonald, explained that not enough designers are focusing on longevity and are more interested in recovering value. She also warned that some designers are only making sustainable decisions because it’s written into policy, the process can risk becoming like ticking boxes.
Ahlstrom Aims for 90% Recycling Rate in Fibre-Based Packaging by 2030
Ahlstrom, a leader in sustainable materials, has made a decisive move towards a circular economy with its recent presentation at the 2023 Festival of Circular Economy.
Natasha Chorlton, the company’s Circular Economy & Recyclability Manager, outlined the company’s transformative approach to product sustainability and circular design.
In her talk titled “Weaving the Fibres for Circular Design, from Present to 2030,” Chorlton emphasised Ahlstrom’s strategy to transition from eco-design to circular design.
The company recognised that some of its products underperformed in sustainability, prompting a shift to renewable resources like wood and a focus on decoupling growth from fossil materials.
Ahlstrom has developed internal circular design guidelines that emphasise system-level thinking and span seven areas across product lifecycles. These include raw materials, manufacturing efficiency, customer efficiency, end-of-life considerations, and circular opportunities like service models.
Ahlstrom aims to increase the recycling rate of fibre-based packaging to 90% by 2030. This ambition is underpinned by an emphasis on scientific approaches, system thinking, and collaborative learning within the business and its value chain.
The guidelines prioritise product durability, reusability, repairability, and re-manufacturability, ensuring products are easier to recycle or compost.
Looking to the future, Ahlstrom aims to increase the recycling rate of fibre-based packaging to 90% by 2030. This ambition is underpinned by an emphasis on scientific approaches, system thinking, and collaborative learning within the business and its value chain.
The company also focuses on altering production and consumption patterns, as demonstrated by a new product launch that drastically reduces formaldehyde emissions in the automotive industry.
Chorlton highlighted the importance of co-innovation, driven by environmental, social, and economic considerations. Ahlstrom views co-innovation as a shift from product-focused innovation to a broader focus on materials and processes that impact overall sustainability. The complexity of this process necessitates collaborations across multiple value chain actors.
Chorlton reiterated the significance of circular design in creating better products and systems. She stated that Ahlstrom is at the early stages of realising the potential of circular design and expects increased value creation and capture in the future.
Mars Takes Bold Steps Toward a Circular Economy in Packaging
Mars, the global confectionery and pet care powerhouse, is making significant strides toward sustainability by revamping its packaging strategy to embrace a circular economy.
At the Festival of Circular Economy 2023, Feliks Bezati, the Global Circular Packaging Director, outlined the company’s journey from a linear to a circular approach to managing resources and waste.
Bezati said Mars recognised the urgent need to address waste pollution and the exhaustion of finite resources, such as oil used in plastic packaging. Bezati paraphrased Antoine-Laurent de Lavoisier, stating, “In nature nothing is created, nothing is lost, everything circulates,” to emphasised the natural cycle they aim to mimic.
Partnering with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, Mars has developed a circular economy strategy resting on three pillars: reducing unnecessary packaging, designing for circularity, and closing the loop through improved recycling infrastructure, partly financed by Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) fees.
Mars faces challenges, particularly with the third pillar, ‘Closing the Loop,’ due to the complex nature of recycling infrastructure and the involvement of numerous stakeholders.
However, the company has employed a Prioritisation Matrix and a Circularity Journey Guide to navigate these complexities, ensuring decisions balance packaging reduction, circularity enhancement, and emission reductions.
Antoine-Laurent de Lavoisier: “In nature nothing is created, nothing is lost, everything circulates”
Bezati says innovation is at the forefront of Mars’s initiatives, with pilot programmes for reusable packaging and the exploration of new materials, such as paper-based packaging with plastic layers that support recycling and compostable solutions for certain markets. A commitment to incorporate 30% recycled material into their packaging underpins their decisions.
Addressing a question about the recyclability of plastic-lined paper packaging, Bezati acknowledged the design challenges while explaining that the design allows the paper to be recycling while the plastic lining is sent to landfill or incinerated.
He explained that Mars is actively working to overcome these challenges by innovating in design to ensure that these materials can be effectively recycled.
This involves collaborating with recycling facilities and other stakeholders to develop scalable processes that can handle the unique properties of these hybrid materials.
Also during the Q&A session, Bezati addressed additional audience question on Life Cycle Assessments (LCIs), reiterating Mars’s commitment to reducing CO2 emissions from flexible packaging and improving its circularity.
The presentation wrapped up with a reaffirmation of Mars’s robust sustainability plan and its focus on addressing the challenges of recycling paper-based products with plastic coatings.
Mars’s journey reflects a growing trend among multinationals to prioritise sustainability and resource efficiency. The company’s efforts to redesign its packaging and invest in infrastructure highlight the private sector’s role in combating environmental challenges through innovation and strategic collaboration.
Navigating the legislative maze
In this exclusive presentation, Philip Mossop, CEO of climate tech leader Pentatonic, the headline partner of the Festival, gave delegates a look at Pentatonic’s newly launched AI Legislation Tracker.
“We’re witnessing an acceleration of legislative action in support of a systemic shift towards sustainable practices in a circular economy,” Mossop said.
Mossop argued that circular economy and technology businesses, especially newcomers, face a “daunting task” of keeping up to date with a multifaceted and global legislative environment.
Pentatonic’s new AI Legislation Tracker aims to help users with this task. Explaining the tool, Mossop said it is a real-time, human-curated, AI-powered tool that will help users understand the latest developments in the ever-shifting regulatory landscape.
The pace at which new legislation is being introduced is also accelerating.
The tool allows users to search and filter through legislations that are both proposed and adopted, as well as interrogate them through an AI agent. Users can ask specific questions about the legislation and identify actions that are based on the compliance requirements.
Currently, Pentatonic’s tool is tracking more than 304 legislations across the US at both a federal and state level, the EU, and the UK.
“The pace at which new legislation is being introduced is also accelerating, which reflects the urgency of our environmental imperatives. It’s needed. It’s long overdue in most cases, but it does make it difficult for companies to understand what it is they’re supposed to be doing,” Mossop told festival delegates.
We Measure Less Than 1% of the Waste We Process: Can AI Help?
The integration of Artificial Intelligence in waste analysis is not just a futuristic vision but a present-day reality, transforming how we approach waste management, compliance, and environmental responsibility.
At the Festival of Circular Economy, a panel discussion titled “What’s in Our Waste? How AI is scaling Waste Analysis to Reshape Operations, Inform Compliance Reporting, and Drive Behaviour Change,” shed light on the groundbreaking role of AI in waste management.
Sarah Foster, Chief Revenue Officer of Grey Parrot, moderated the panel, emphasising the urgent need for detailed waste data to meet the increasing demands of the sector.
She said: “Currently, we measure less than 1% of the waste we process, which means we are not fully aware of what’s in the remaining 99%.”
This signifies the need for better data capture to make informed decisions. What is in our waste influences policy, operations, trade, and even consumer behaviour, she said.
Currently, we measure less than 1% of the waste we process, which means we are not fully aware of what’s in the remaining 99%
The panellists, representing various expertise areas, discussed the transformative impact of AI on waste analysis and its implications for operations, regulation, and behaviour change.
Claire Shrewsbury, Director of Insights and Innovation at WRAP, highlighted the critical role of AI in enhancing data granularity. This data can significantly influence policy-making, operational decisions, and consumer behaviour.
AI-driven waste sorting and data collection are proving pivotal in boosting recycling rates and shaping Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) initiatives.
Jonathan Caesar, Senior Technical Plant Engineer at SUEZ, delved into the operational benefits of AI in plant engineering.
AI technologies provide continuous monitoring and optimization of mechanical treatment processes, a leap from traditional methods reliant on manual sampling and subjective judgment. This shift ensures more efficient, accurate, and dynamic operation adjustments.
Patrick Brighty, Recycling Policy Advisor at the Environmental Services Association, addressed the relevance of AI from a policy and regulatory standpoint.
With new regulations demanding more frequent and diverse material sampling, AI emerges as a key tool to manage the increased burden and support the effective distribution of EPR payments.
The panel collectively underscored the significance of AI in driving the circular economy forward. By enabling more accurate and comprehensive waste data analysis, AI technologies are not only reshaping operations and compliance but also influencing global behaviour towards more sustainable waste management practices.
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