Circularity in every sector

By Pelican MD Michael Bennett

5 minute read

Key takeaways

  • A circular economy is being adopted in all sectors.
  • 2020 was a very productive year in sustainability terms.
  • There are several exciting initiatives to look out for as we make our way out of lockdown.

Despite the distraction of the pandemic, 2020 was actually a very productive year in sustainability terms. The Circular Economy Action Plan 2.0 was published by the European Commission, Microsoft committed to going carbon negative by 2030, and the Chinese government announced a plan to crack down on plastic pollution by 2025.

There are no signs of things slowing down in 2021. From sustainable batteries for electric cars to a green makeover for our wardrobes, here are some of the circular economy initiatives to look out for as we make our way out of lockdown.

Making products last longer

It’s often cheaper to replace an appliance than repair it, but ministers have confirmed that from this summer consumers will have a right to repair on goods they buy. It means manufacturers will be legally obliged to make spare parts for products available to consumers for the first time. The new rules could extend the lifespan of products by up to 10 years and reduce the 1.5 million tonnes of electrical waste said by the government to be generated in the UK each year.

Meanwhile in the EU, the Sustainable Products Initiative will expand the scope of the Ecodesign Directive beyond energy-related products, encouraging the production of products that are more durable, reusable, repairable, recyclable and energy efficient.

Time for a new wardrobe?

The fashion industry produces more than 92 million tonnes of waste and consumes 79 trillion litres of water per year. In response, Wrap has announced a new initiative launching in April called Textiles 2030. This is a voluntary agreement which follows the Sustainable Clothing Action Plan 2020 (SCAP) and aims to reduce lifestyle greenhouse gas emissions, cut the water footprint of products and deliver a UK circular textiles road map.

Meanwhile, an EU strategy for sustainable textiles is also expected this year. The principle behind this will be to turn the buy-wear-dispose model into a circular one. Regulations will aim to make clothes less energy-intensive, more durable, plus easier to mend and recycle.

Clean power storage for electric cars

In November the Prime Minister, Transport Secretary and Business Secretary announced the end of the sale of new petrol and diesel cars in the UK by 2030, an important step in the fight against climate change. But as electric car sales surge, ensuring batteries fit our circular economy will be vital.

Batteries have several impacts on the environment, such as finite resources for some materials, energy intensive production and a lack of collection and recycling infrastructure. Governments, manufacturers and other organisations are addressing these sustainability concerns by:

  • Introducing stricter regulations for mineral-producing countries to prevent environmental exploitation.
  • Reducing reliance on cobalt and other rare materials used in batteries.
  • Introducing cleaner energy grids to reduce lifecycle emissions for electric cars.

Another area that will improve the sustainability of batteries will be developing a circular economy lifecycle model. Electric vehicle batteries undergo a regular series of charges and discharges. This means they need batteries with at least 80% health. Although they can’t be used in cars below 80%, they can be reused in ‘second life’ applications before being recycled.

Energy grid storage will become an important part of the energy sector, allowing excess renewable energy to be stored for later use. With so many EVs being produced in the coming years, second hand batteries will be able to meet the demand for grid scale storage of over 200GWh a year by 2030 – equal to the energy demand of more than 50,000 UK homes.

Once the battery can no longer be used in second life applications, it can be recycled, reducing the need to extract raw materials.

Circular hospitality

The hospitality and leisure sector was brought to a standstill in lockdown, but despite this, recycling and sustainability remain a firm focus. Many venues are taking measures such as replacing plastic straws with recyclable paper or reusable stainless steel options, and shifting from paper towels to washable fabric – proactively looking at what initiatives can be used to embrace the circular economy.

Research suggests that by taking small steps such as these, hotel waste could be reduced by 16 percent, pub waste by 30 percent, and nightclub waste by up to 98%.

Additionally, solar panels are becoming a more common sight to power restaurants and bars through renewable sources. Some hotels are going even further to transform the linear economy into something more circular. The QO Amsterdam, for example, famous for its aquarium, is making use of natural fish waste to provide essential nutrients to the hotel’s greenhouse plants; all of which are grown as ingredients to stock the on-site restaurants.

Room for improvement as we build a sustainable future

In the UK, the construction sector is responsible for around 60% of all UK materials used and produces about a third of all its waste. Unfortunately, the cost of more sustainable approaches have often proved too high for construction to overcome.

But by introducing principles of the circular economy in the design phase, with a focus on longevity, the lifecycle of a building and its component materials can be extended even after the building is decommissioned. While operational, buildings will operate increasingly like banks, storing valuable assets that can later restore value into the supply chain.

In the UK, the Green Building Council (UKGBC) is working with its members and the wider industry to develop practical guidance which will enable organisations working in the built environment to overcome the barriers to implementing circular economy principles.

Do you have a circular economy project you need to promote? Get on touch with our team today, we’d love to hear about it.

Pelican Communications is a specialist in the environment & CSRfoodpackaging & logistics and trade association sectors and offers a range of services such as strategydesigncontent creationpublic relations and people developmentContact us for marketing and communications expertise.

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