Circular economy: reducing, reusing, remaking, recovering and renewing

Governments and responsible businesses have been waking up to the dangers of climate change to society and pledging to do more to support sustainability efforts. Relatively unknown a decade ago, the concept of a circular economy has become a solution for many businesses looking to implement a sustainability policy while capturing value through growth. Regenerative by design, the circular economy is aimed at extending the life of all goods and materials to curb both waste and pollution.

Implemented effectively, the circular economy can be a real value driver for businesses. To prevent wastage, companies have to rethink how products are designed, made and used. This involves a complete reconsideration of production processes, and we now have the technology to aid us. With the transition toward the Fourth Industrial Revolution, businesses can reconfigure processes and prioritise the five Rs: reducing, reusing, remaking, recovering and renewing.

In the long term, this will spawn new green processes and jobs for the economy, leading to greater efficiency and competitive advantage.

To lay the groundwork for a circular economy, governments, businesses and consumers have to first understand the repercussions of not prioritising and championing sustainability. Instead of waiting for policymakers to act, organisations can take the lead in devising a long-term sustainability strategy.

However the challenge businesses are facing is understanding what a circular company looks like and measuring circularity. This is where standards for performance measurement and reporting are required to better understand how to optimise systems and identify areas for improvement.

Businesses can partner with their peers and suppliers across the supply value chain to share resources and cut back on usage of certain materials. They can tap into new technologies to engineer new sustainable solutions. Technology can be used for hard-to-recycle materials, such as certain types of plastics.

Apart from accelerating the transition to a circular economy, businesses have to fundamentally change the way they function. It will not be easy, but the benefits gained can lead to a brighter future for generations to come.

Bringing the circular economy to life

Swindon-based company Recycling Technologies and the University of Bath’s Centre for Sustainable and Circular Technologies are leading the development of an industrial research facility focused on the circular economy. In collaboration with the University of Oxford and NiTech Solutions, the Innovation Campus for the Circular Economy (ICCE) will bring university and corporate partners together to advance the development of low-carbon, sustainable chemistry.

By bridging the gap between academia and industry, this project aims to accelerate the adoption of cutting-edge technologies in areas such as clean energy, bio-based resource, sustainable materials, recycling and waste valorisation into mainstream industrial practice. These technologies will have applications in a range of industries including consumer goods, food and beverage and manufacturing.

The ICCE campus will be based at the Science Museum’s National Collections Centre, located at the former RAF Wroughton airfield. Alongside museum storage facilities, this multipurpose site is home to many large open areas, native woodlands, and one of the UK’s largest solar farms. The Centre hosts research and development projects in collaboration with the Science Museum Group, industry and academia. Recent examples include testing solar- and wind-powered mobile phone technology and large-scale smart motorway technology.

Upon completion, ICCE will serve as a world-class research and development facility and host visitor programs targeted at school-age students to help inspire the next generation of engineers and scientists through engaging lectures and tours of its facilities.

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