The UK’s progress towards establishing a circular economy is ‘disappointing’ and greater focus is needed on tackling resource consumption, according to WRAP chief executive Liz Goodwin.
Speaking during a panel discussion at the Resource 2014 conference in London yesterday (March 4 2013), Dr Goodwin praised the improvement in recycling rates over the last decade, but said that in order to move towards a circular economy the issue of resource consumption needed addressing.
She said: "I am quite disappointed at how much progress we have made because it has been pitifully slow. We need some real examples of businesses getting a circular economy working and that will help.”
Dr Goodwin also added that there was still a ‘lack of awareness’ among businesses about creating a circular economy.
But, with regards to recycling specifically, Dr Goodwin said later: "We have actually made fantastic progress over the last few years and we are increasing recycling rates. That is something that we should all be very proud of.”
However, she said: "There is still work to do on recycling targets. But we have got to move on to the whole consumption issue. We have now got some really big challenges in terms of thinking about difficult business materials and using less stuff.”
Dr Goodwin suggested that both the public and businesses needed to shift their thinking towards ‘trading in and upgrading products rather than just throwing them away’, adding that WRAP research suggested there was ‘great potential’ for the market in trading-in and upgrading goods.
'I am quite disappointed at how much progress we have made because it has been pitifully slow. We need some real examples of businesses getting a circular economy working and that will help.'
Liz Goodwin, chief executive, WRAP
She said: "The challenge is having that discussion about how we treat resources and do the right thing. We had that with recycling, now we must have that for resources.”
Also speaking on the panel, entitled ‘What will drive businesses towards the circular economy?’ was Biffa chief executive Ian Wakelin.
Highlighting the use of papers instead of electronic documents among conference delegates as an example, Mr Wakelin suggested that a major barrier to the circular economy was a lack of desire to change habits.
He said: "Even now, here in this building, there is a complete apathy to really make a change and drive the circular economy.”
However, Mr Wakelin also praised improvements in recycling, commenting: "I think it is worth saying how far we have come in this country over the last 10-15 years. What has driven that is economics. Business is about making money.”
But, he added that legislation – such as the current landfill tax – had an important part to play: "You can drive a business decision by economics or legislation. And yes, legislation is an incredibly powerful tool – legislation could help phenomenally.”
Elsewhere on the panel there was also agreement that both legislation and greater collaboration between businesses had a role to play in boosting the circular economy.
Felix Preston – senior research fellow for energy, environment and resources at think tank Chatham House – said: "I personally believe there is still a strong role for government to make the circular economy happen.”
And, also on the panel, senior policy advisor at the Green Alliance, Dustin Benton, suggested that stricter legislation in the manufacturing and design sectors would help boost recycling and reuse.
He said: "What we could say is that if you cannot take apart a product in two minutes then you cannot sell it – you could easily do that.”
The Resource 2014 conference and exhibition is taking place at the ExCel Centre in London.