Working towards a shared vision for waste and resource management (3): Key changes and pivot points

The Resource Recovery from Waste (RRfW) programme coordinates a co-creation process for a shared vision and approach for sustainable waste and resource management in the UK.

Previously we introduced the co-creation methods and discussed results on effective collaboration between government and academic partners and policy and regulatory approaches. This week we present RRfW governmental partners’ key ideas and approach for our future waste and resource management landscape.

From end-of-pipe waste treatment to strategies that maximise resource values

We need to move away from ‘end-of-pipe’ approaches for waste treatment. Such approaches only deal with waste issues once they have emerged. Moreover, they often focus on cost savings rather than creating value.

Instead, we need to adopt more proactive strategies to design whole systems for resource management. Such strategies consider how resources are transformed throughout life cycles of products. In this way, end-of-life options such as reuse, dismantling and/or recycling of products can be designed into the life cycles. Such strategies maximise the values created from resources, whilst keeping them within our economy for as long as possible.

Pivot points in the transition towards a circular economy

While consensus on the transition from end-of-pipe approaches for waste treatment to strategies that maximise resource values was easily reached in the RRfW co-creation process, perceptions regarding the approaches to realise such radical change varied. The figure below provides an overview of the main changes and key themes discussed by government partners.


Four pivot points were identified for the transition towards more sustainable waste and resource management:

1. Integrate environmental and social value with economic progress

The current economic growth model needs to change to include environmental and social measures of progress. This requires a fundamental change in economic theory and practice. Metrics for environmental and social value need to be developed and integrated with economic metrics. Such approach would support decoupling of consumption rates from economic growth as well as resource use from waste production.

2. Support secondary resource markets

Secondary resource markets are essential for realising a circular economy. However, the ways in which secondary resource markets should be supported revealed clear differences between government partners; ranging from banning products that are difficult to recycle on the one hand, and product standards and internalising environmental and social externalities into the monetary resource value on the other hand (also see blog 2/3 in this series). Similarly, the perceived necessity for secondary resource markets and recycling infrastructure varied; while some think that demand for product consumption will decrease, others anticipate such patterns will persist as usual and hence more investment in recycling infrastructure and markets is required.

3. Promote innovation and enabling technologies

Building on the different perceptions whether consumption patterns will change, innovation in business models and recycling technology are necessary. Digitisation could support recycling processes, enabling improved monitoring and data management. A third area of innovation covers material and product design, to include end-of-life options and, consequently, enable higher recycling rates.

4. Understand the whole system to identify key intervention points

Through an understanding of the whole system, a number of key intervention points were suggested:

  • Focus on the top of the waste hierarchy i.e. waste prevention, minimisation and reuse.
  • Connect waste and resource management, and associated waste infrastructure, to the decarbonisation agenda.
  • Model complete life cycles of resources and products, identifying hotspots of risks and impacts along the value chain where regulatory efforts could be targeted.

We value your feedback!

The preliminary results discussed above will be included in a publication. We would value additional input from further governmental organisations and other interested stakeholders. Please leave a comment or contact us directly.

NB Should you wish to use the presented results above, please reference as: Anne P.M. Velenturf et al. (Forthcoming) Co-producing a Vision and Approach for the Transition towards a Circular Economy: Perspectives from Government Partners.

This article was originally published on LinkedIn on 15th February 2017

Featured image by Lynn Tucker (design) and Astrid Erasmuson (graphic art) – The New Zealand Institute for Crop and Food Research