The RRfW programme formally concludes in September 2019, but leaves a vibrant legacy.
Report released from workshop on research and innovation challenges for resource recovery and circular economy, hosted jointly by RRfW and NERC in March 2019.
RRfW is offering a fresh perspective on how we conceive of the circular economy, with a new diagram that embeds the circular economy within the natural environment.
The RRfW programme has found that the adoption of resource recovery as part of the transition to a circular economy needs to be further promoted by a favourable policy landscape.
Response to the Resources and Waste Strategy for England by the Resource Recovery from Waste programme.
If resource recovery is to be widely adopted as part of the transition towards a ‘closed-loop’ circular economy, we need to be able to clearly articulate to government and companies how they would benefit from this change
Current patterns of production and consumption are driving the twin environmental crises of resource scarcity and waste overload. This can be tackled by moving away from our current consume-and-dispose economy to a circular economy, where resources are recovered and reused instead of being disposed of as waste. However, movement in this direction has been slow.
In order to promote such a transition to a circular economy, the Resource Recovery from Waste programme (RRfW) has been working with academia, government and industry to develop a shared vision and approach. Insights from their engagement with governmental actors have recently been published in the journal Sustainability.
In the paper, the authors compare the outcomes of interviews with waste and resource specialists from a diversity of governmental departments with the Governments’ formal published visions, strategies, and plans for the promotion of a circular economy, resource recovery, and waste management in England, Wales, Northern Ireland, and Scotland.
The governmental specialists broadly agreed on a vision of a circular economy that maximises the value of materials by keeping them in the economy for as long as possible, moving away from end-of-pipe approaches and instead designing durability and recyclability into the economy (for a fuller description, please see our previous blog posts: effective government-academic collaborations, policy and regulatory approaches, and key changes and pivot points).
Comparing this vision described by the governmental specialists with official strategies and plans showed that parts of this vision have already been incorporated in policy and regulation. However, there are large differences in the extent to which this has been achieve across the four nations in the UK, with England especially falling behind the pack (see Table 1). In addition, any existing coherence appears to be mostly driven by a desire to comply with EU directives. With the uncertainty of Brexit looming on the horizon, it is not clear to what degree the UK as a whole or individual nations will continue to implement such directives. As such, the lack of coherence highlighted in Table 1 is likely to get worse unless concerted policy action is taken soon by BEIS, Defra and their devolved counterparts.
Further recommendations for governmental organisations emerging from this research include:
- Progress should be measured in terms of technical, social and environmental values in addition to economic, and data collection adapted accordingly [delivered by new Office for Resource Stewardship or collective effort of e.g. BEIS, MHCLG, Defra, ONS; used by all government departments, especially the Treasury].
- Secondary resource markets should be supported through a mix of incentives and regulatory approaches [BEIS, Defra and devolved counterparts].
- Policy interventions should enable innovation, not only in waste processing technologies but also business models, product design, and methods of data collection and analysis [UKRI].
- A whole-system approach to analysis should be adopted (aided by academics) but, as government operates in departments, this then needs to be translated into specific actions that can be steered through key intervention points [led by Cabinet and devolved counterparts, supported by new Office for Resource Stewardship].
- A long-term and predictable policy framework is required that focuses on resource efficiency in line with the decarbonisation agenda, building on the EU circular economy package [BEIS, Defra and devolved counterparts].
- Further action is needed to maintain the technical functional qualities of materials and thus their ability to contribute to industrial productivity i.e. as resources, not waste. This will require a change in investment profile away from energy-from-waste to resource recovery infrastructure [Infrastructure and Projects Authority, NIC].
Full details of this work are available in the open access article: Velenturf et al. (2018) Co-Producing a Vision and Approach for the Transition towards a Circular Economy: Perspectives from Government Partners. Sustainability, 10, 1401; doi: 10.3390/su10051401
The first paper in the series on the co-producing a vision for transition to a circular economy, which contains the academic perspective, is available at: Anne Velenturf and Phil Purnell (2017) Resource recovery from waste: Restoring the balance between resource scarcity and waste overload. Sustainability, 9 (9), 1603; doi:10.3390/su9091603 Open Access.
For further RRfW papers, please see our publications page.
Deadline for manuscripts now extended to 31 January 2019.
The Resource Recovery from Waste (RRfW) programme is to coordinate a Research Topic in collaboration with the Gold Open Access scientific publishing platform Frontiers and its associated family of journals. We would like to encourage participation from across the research community to raise visibility and drive momentum in the resource recovery from waste area.
A workshop on the decommissioning and resource recovery of low-carbon energy infrastructure was held in Leeds on 16th January 2018. It was co-organised by the University of Leeds, Resource Recovery from Waste and Innovate UK, and attracted participants from academia, business, government and catapult organisations.
Decommissioning of nuclear and North Sea oil infrastructure has left taxpayers facing a bill of £300 billion or more. To avoid repeating history, our low-carbon infrastructures must be designed for durability, decommissioning and resource recovery. Meeting this challenge will require the development of disruptive new science, technology and industry business models in a sector where there is a distinct global need and development opportunities, but little expertise.
The workshop examined challenges for industry and research, discussed current best practice and gauged the demand for new solutions in this area. The outcomes are being used to shape a research programme led by the University of Leeds (E4LCID) and help Innovate UK understand the potential for industry-led innovation funding in this area under the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund.
The workshop kicked-off with three presentations:
- Nick Cliffe, Innovate UK ‘Developing technology, approaches and business models for decommissioning of low carbon infrastructure’ (pdf).
- Phil Purnell, University of Leeds ‘Developing technology, approaches and business models for decommissioning of low carbon infrastructure: E4LCID’ (pdf).
- Quentin Fisher, University of Leeds ‘Lessons learned from oil and gas field decommissioning’ (pdf).
Discussions were held to gain a greater insight into the sector-specific challenges in offshore wind, onshore wind, solar PV, and electric vehicles; followed by a session to identify cross-sectoral challenges.
The workshop identified eight research issues as being central to all stakeholders’ perception of the problems facing decommissioning of low-carbon infrastructure, including:
- The need for methods to value materials factoring in co-benefits such as environmental and resource security benefits.
- Developing the infrastructure necessary to extend the functional lifetime of components, decommission and recover resources .
- An inventory of the materials present in current low-carbon infrastructure is needed to accurately estimate volumes and timing of material in- and out-flows, thereby enabling business development.
- A better understanding is needed of the durability of the high-tech materials used in low-carbon infrastructure.
- A way to analyse the whole system is needed, in order to balance trade offs between economic, social, technical and environmental costs and benefits.
- There is an opportunity to develop the skills and expertise to make the UK a leader in this area.
- Regulation will be required to drive the right behaviour, clarify ownership of the issues on decommissioning and resource recovery, and reduce risks.
- The transformative potential impact – positive and negative – of new business models needs to be investigated.
The full workshop report detailing the day and all the findings in more detail is available here: Workshop proceedings on decommissioning low-carbon infrastructures (pdf).
University of Leeds will continue to co-produce and develop the E4LCID programme on low-carbon decommissioning and resource recovery. If you are interested in contributing to this process, please get in touch with Anne Velenturf.