Circular Economy: RWM 2014 Highlights

RWM 2014 Highlights ‘Change in Culture’ Needed to Boost Circular Economy

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What’s required to make the Circular Economy Work? 

People outside the waste and recycling sector need to better understand the importance of the circular economy in order for it to grow, according to Viridor chief executive Ian McAulay. Speaking during a panel session at the RWM exhibition in Birmingham yesterday (September 17), Mr Ian McAulay said that “not enough people understand the circular economy” despite the fact that “the need for it is very, very strong”.

Mr McAulay featured on the panel to discuss the circular economy alongside SITA UK chief executive and ESA chairman David Palmer-Jones, Zero Waste Scotland director Iain Gulland and CIWM chief executive Steve Lee.

Ian McAulay – “A Move Towards the Term ‘Resource'”

He said: “I think the need for it [the circular economy] is clear, but that needs explaining to people. Waste is not a very attractive term for people so we need to move towards the term ‘resource’ so that people understand the value of that.”

Mr McAulay called for waste companies to build better partnerships with companies both within and outside the waste sector: “It is not just down to the waste companies. We have got to work in partnership with people to understand the whole process, and we need to work out how we develop technology today.”

He also emphasised the importance of material quality and investing in technology in order to build a circular economy, stating: “The biggest thing for me is the relentless pursuit of quality.”

And, elsewhere he addressed fears in the sector about recycling rates plateauing, commenting: “I don’t want to worry too much about that. I think it is more of an evolutionary journey than a revolutionary one.”

The Viridor chief added: “This is not something that is changing overnight. This is a long term, 25-year process.”

His comments came at the Circular Economy Connect Arena at RWM during the session ‘The CEO Panel – Leading by example: How are waste management specialists driving the circular economy cause, and what more needs to be done to support businesses?’

David Palmer-Jones – “Massive Change in Culture”

Also speaking during the session, Mr Palmer-Jones also agreed that greater understanding of the concept of the circular economy was needed, stating that: “We need a massive change in our culture. Infrastructure is a very small part of it. Trying to get everyone to recognise waste as a resource – it is a very, very complex change to grasp.”

He explained that the waste industry needed to build new customer relationships and work more closely with companies outside the sector in order to improve resource efficiency and the circular economy.

Mr Palmer-Jones added that until now the private sector had taken “significant risk” in investing in the circular economy, but that “we need at least another £10-15 billion more” to drive it forward in future.

He said: “We could do with a little bit of help from our politicians. We need to take the opportunity to look a little bit more longer-term.”

Iain Gulland – “Bring Companies Together”

Iain Gulland of Zero Waste Scotland took the view that waste management companies were in many cases discussing ways to boost the circular economy separately from other businesses outside the sector.

He said: “We always have them talking separately in different rooms, but maybe we need to bring them together.”

Steve Lee – “A Move Towards Knowledge Management”

Also appearing on the panel, chief executive of the Chartered Institution of Wastes Management (CIWM), Steve Lee also called for waste companies to work more closely with businesses outside the sector, suggesting that waste companies could in future start moving away from logistics towards “knowledge management”.

Mr Lee said: “The move towards the circular economy is potentially a game changer. Moving towards a circular economy is an opportunity and a need at the same time. It is in our hands and it will be our failure if we do not seize this opportunity. If you are wondering when the circular economy started, it was about two years ago, so if you are not up to speed, get with the programme.”

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