Is the circular economy going to revolutionise how our country makes things, or is it just a more ambitious form of our present waste recycling set up, likely to succeed only in part?
The Zero Waste Scotland organisers of the “Circular Economy Hotspot” conference held in Glasgow 30th October to 1st November, 2018, believe the former. Two hundred and fifty delegates, from as far away as Taiwan, China, Ecuador, Canada, USA and Europe attended to learn and share experiences. Out to motivate the audience were product design consultants such as TED talk speaker Dr Leyla Acaraglu, UNEP member Janez Potocnik and Miranda Schnitger of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.
The best presentation was given by veteran campaigner Walter Stahel, author of the Performance Economy (2010) and the phrase “Cradle to cradle” manufacturing. The linear economy, where raw materials are mined, smelted, machined, fabricated, used, then landfilled must cease. Manufacturers and suppliers must take responsibility for their products, lease them as services, then retrieve them for refurbishment or as feedstock for a new generation of products.
While most of those present were “top down” people, government staff, environmentalists, academics, NGO staff, the third day of visits allowed us to visit “bottom up” developments. Compostable plastics made from Langustine shells (Cuan Tec, Oban, Dr Tracy White), compostable packaging made from eggshells (Alterwaste, Martina Zapan), compostable coffee cups (Vegware, Edinburgh), circular plastics use in healthcare (NHS, Wendy Rayner) and mechanical and chemical recycling of plastics in John Ferguson’s Project Beacon, of the Binn Group, Glen Farge, Perth. Almost all these companies have received awards for one of more of their innovations.
The big questions are how to ensure manufacturers take responsibility for products at their end of life. Will government intervene? Will economic instruments be used? Will government get the economic signals right? This possibly should be the topic for the next Circular economy Hotspot conference to be held in Copenhagen next year.