OPINION: James Piper, CEO of Ecosurety, considers the benefits of a circular economy and outlines how investment is critical if the UK are to make the transition.
It is a year since the Government launched its Resources & Waste Strategy. Rightly hailed as a bold and ambitious document, the Strategy acknowledged for the first time the limitations of our current linear waste system before making a business and environmental case for a transition to a more circular economy.
Few can dispute the argument for a transition to a circular economy. Our current linear “extract, use, dispose” model relies on an infinite availability of natural resources at a perpetually low price. However, this ‘low cost’ of natural resources fails to account for environmental impacts that their extraction comes with, including CO2 emissions, associated pollution and degradation of ecosystems and land. Neither does it account for the lost material value of products when they are rendered obsolete and sent to landfill.
Global waste crisis
This linear system – which ignores the reusable potential of existing materials – has led to a global waste crisis. In the UK we generate 220 million tonnes of waste a year. Figures from Defra show that 50% of this is recycled. However, years of restricted investment in our recycling system means a significant proportion of our recycling – particularly packaging – is still now exported to countries that have limited capacity to deal with it. Change is urgently required.
Changing an economic model from a linear one to a circular one takes time. It also takes investment. Likewise, a change in our waste and recycling sector can only happen if we provide finance mechanisms to support it. Investment facilitates innovation. Innovation builds recycling capacity. It also helps us with things like improving the quality and quantity of recyclate. Without investment innovative ideas won’t ever reach a point of market readiness – and we’ll never get a grip on the escalating waste crisis that we find ourselves in today.
Aware the UK desperately needed better recycling infrastructure, several years ago Ecosurety decided to take action. We started working with our members to identify areas of product and recycling innovation that needed financing. We have gone on to support a wealth of ideas, initiatives, emerging technologies and awareness programmes. Through the adoption of a ‘circular’ investment model, we witnessed first-hand the positive impact that strategic investment can have in the waste and recycling sector. As time has progressed (and exporting our waste has become harder) it has become ever more apparent that investment in UK recycling capacity is crucial if we want to help build a better, more sustainable system for the future.
“Ecosurety decided to create a more defined funding route … the launch of the Ecosurety Exploration Fund is the happy outcome”.
However, what we also came to realise is that our approach to funding – while impactful – wasn’t particularly visible. We realised that while there are a plethora of amazing initiatives and start-ups out there, they simply aren’t getting the funding they need because they don’t know it exists.
Ecosurety decided to create a more defined funding route – one that is open to all the areas of recycling compliance we provide for our members (packaging, batteries and WEEE) but one that has a clear set of parameters and is open to anyone working to provide solutions to the negative effects these waste streams have on the environment.
The launch of the Ecosurety Exploration Fund is the happy outcome of this decision. As part of our funding commitment, we’ve ring-fenced £1million over the next three years and we’re delighted to have secured the support of some leading sustainability experts to help us identify projects with the biggest impact when the first of the funds close in March.
With newly-released household recycling figures showing that rates have more or less plateaued, investment into new solutions is critical if we are to get a grip on the growing challenge of waste and environmental damage being caused by our current system. Across the UK businesses, charities, academics and local communities are coming up with solutions for a more sustainable waste and recycling sector. The Ecosurety Exploration Fund is our way of helping to support them in their efforts. It recognises the massive shift that needs to take place as we move towards a circular economy and is a step towards making this happen. We can’t wait to get started.
If you would like to find out more about the Ecosurety Exploration Fund, please visit our website www.ecosurety.com or drop one of the team an email to discuss.