The Circular Economy in Wales

A guest post by Robin Burn I Eng. FIMMM


The Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs launched its Resources and Waste Strategy in December 2018. This can be taken as the UK Government’s first formal acknowledgement that there’s a need to move away from the linear model (the make use, and dispose model) toward a Circular Economy for the exploitation of natural resources.

Current Waste Management Model Not Fit For Purpose

The purpose of the December 2018 publication by  DEFRA of the Resources and Waste Strategy was intended to formalise that which has been recognised by worldwide governmental authorities, and environmentalists, that the current practise of waste management and disposal was no longer fit for purpose, and to publicise that fact – as well as officially to formulate a competent plan of action to eliminate waste and manage that which could not be eliminated.

[DEFRA is a UK Government body but which operates primarily in England and the majority of its functions and responsibilities are devolved to the Welsh Government. The split of these responsibilities between the UK Government and Welsh Government is described in a ‘Concordat’ which can be viewed HERE .In this case the policy is for England only but which the Welsh Government can choose to adopt or ignore. More importantly it could have been developed at any time and we didn’t have to wait for England to decide.But as you have now come to expect, our ‘Welsh’ Labour Government does not take any decisions without instructions from its London masters, and our Minister for Environment, Energy & Rural Affairs Lesley Griffiths has continued with the noble tradition within Labour of ‘making things up as they go along’.]

Raised Awareness

Recent publicity of waste plastics in oceanic environments, in landfill, and stockpiled globally, has raised awareness globally for the need of drastic remedial actions.

CO2 – A Valuable Commodity?

The emission of carbon dioxide – known to be a minor ‘greenhouse gas’ (making up < 3% of all ‘greenhouse’ gases in the Earth’s atmosphere) and an  alleged contributor to global warming – is accepted as a waste by-product of human activity. It now needs to be a component of the circular economy, treated as a valuable commodity, and traded like any other raw material.

Until recently it was assumed that energy-intensive firms –which burn gas to fuel their processes – would eventually adopt the capturing of their resulting carbon emissions and bury them underground or alternatively transform the CO2, using chemical processes, at the source of the emissions.

This form of carbon capture is practised at the Drax power plant in Yorkshire, for example, using the gypsum produced to make building and construction products.

Resources and Waste Strategy

In December 2018 the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs published the document ‘Resources and Waste Strategy for England’. The objective was to establish a programme of remediation over a 25 year period, to reduce waste, identify ways of dealing with inevitable waste, and to identify, and put in place innovative methodology to use waste to best advantage.

The overall objective is to expand the move toward a circular economy, by minimising waste, promoting resource efficiency, and minimise damage to the environment by reducing and managing waste safely and carefully. The objective is to eliminate avoidable plastic waste, and eliminate all avoidable waste by 2050.

In its Introduction, the document outlines the case for taking action and pledges to leave the environment in a better condition for the next generation, concentrating on identified problem areas and supported by a series of consultations.

The planned objective is to expand the circular economy, extending the life of resources, and to extract maximum value, recover and regenerate product and materials by recycling, and create a greater understanding of the value of materials and products.

The Challenge

The challenge for global authorities is to maintain the balance between what works now and which does not.

Refundable deposits on plastics, and comprehensive council recycling services, are among the plans under consultation in the recently announced UK government Resources and Waste Strategy.

Ambitious research projects will also receive funding under the initiative, alongside incentives for industry to produce products that last longer and can more easily be recycled.

Conferences and seminars are being conducted worldwide, looking to improve ways of profiting from carbon dioxide.

The Task

It is an enormous task to convert the 37 gigatonnes of waste carbon dioxide we produce annually in the world economy. Exciting new ways of locking up approximately 7 gigatonnes, in known novel products, could make a small inroad into the task in front of us:

  • Wales played a part converting gas extracted from air into liquid in an industrial process, and sold on to the local economy.
  • Waste carbon dioxide contributes to a fertiliser factory in Swindon.
  • Waste CO2 mixed with waste ash from an incinerator by adding water and ash is a hygroscopic process. Artificial limestone for building blocks and other building materials is already being manufactured in a factory in Leeds.

The above are examples of novel technology based innovations – there could be many more –  spawned out of the need to reuse waste product in the Circular Economy.

Gwlad comment:
We need to make Wales a world leader in this area of expertise. This is one of the innovative ways that we can stand on our own feet, whilst gearing up our home grown companies. We have the talent, and we are innovative and inventive as a nation. Do we really need overseas companies to provide us with most of our employment? NO we don’t. Can we do it on our own? YES we can

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