What exactly is the circular economy (CE) and how does it work? Essentially it’s about reducing and ultimately eliminating the waste that our society produces from what we consume. It’s the opposite to the current predominantly ‘linear’ economy, which operates on a ‘take-make-dispose’ basis. The CE by contrast seeks to avoid wasting anything by finding some sort of use for stuff. If something can’t be used, it should be recycled. If it can’t be recycled, it could be burned in an incinerator to produce energy. There are pros and cons to incineration, but the point is to avoid wasting anything by whatever means necessary.
A considerable body of research on the circular economy has been done by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. This has largely formed the basis for policy makers looking to engage in CE initiatives.
This article will focus on the work of the Scottish Government’s (SG) CE strategy, specifically looking at how this has been (or will be) adopted by Glasgow City Council (GCC) as an ongoing policy and how this relates to the SANE Collectives’ Critical City project.
Scottish Government strategy
The foundations for the SG’s CE approach was laid out in 2010 with the publication of its Zero Waste Plan. This has now evolved into the Managing Waste Policy. This is driven by five policy actions:
- Resource efficiency
- Food waste
- Deposit return scheme
- Litter and fly-tipping
- New Plastics Economy global commitment
In 2015, the Charter for Household Recycling was rolled out across local authorities in Scotland, who will commit:
- To improve our household waste and recycling services to maximise the capture of, and improve the quality of, resources from the waste stream, recognising the variations in household types and geography to endeavour that our services meet the needs of all our citizens.
- To encourage our citizens to participate in our recycling and reuse services to ensure that they are fully utilised.
- To operate our services so that our staff are safe, competent and treated fairly with the skills required to deliver effective and efficient resource management on behalf of our communities.
- To develop, agree, implement and review a Code of Practice that enshrines the current best practice to deliver cost effective and high-performing recycling services and tell all of our citizens and community partners about both this charter and the code of practice.
The aim will be to engage citizens as well as Business and industry, who will also be expected to engage with the Charter.
In Glasgow, a waste strategy was set out, following the SG’s zero waste plan in 2010. This was a 10 year plan and is now up for assessment. Following a review in 2015. GCC updated its ‘action plan’. The Relevant documentation can be found here.
As part of this process, a system of coloured bins was rolled out to households around the city and information provided to help citizens dispose of their waste in the proper bins. Recycling bins were also provided in various locations outside such as supermarkets to allow bulk recycling of materials, e.g. glass bottles. Businesses would establish their own recycling procedures. GCC has an online FAQ’s page.
Public Procurement has an important role to play. This is covered by the Procurement Reform (Scotland) Act 2014, which was subsequently supplemented by the Procurement (Scotland) Regulations 2016.
GCC has published its ‘Corporate Procurement Strategy & Annual Procurement Report’. The strategy runs from 2018 – 2022. The report covers the period January 2018 – March 2019.
Circular economy principles can be realised through public procurement through the likes of leasing, repair and remanufacture. This means acquiring products that can be repaired rather than just thrown away. Would it be more cost effective to lease something rather than buy outright? And can products be remanufactured i.e. rebuilt or refurbished? Procurement is a broad area and it is important for local authorities to consider the sustainability of the products and services they purchase.
SANE has already reported on the importance of public procurement and is an element in the critical city project. As Kevin Hattie put it in part 1 of this series (see below)
The progressive potential of public procurement is twofold: first of all, the opportunity to retain money in the local economy exists when procurement is aimed at supporting local businesses. If public institutions purchased their goods and services from local suppliers, the community in which these institutions are rooted would stand to benefit. Secondly, the businesses that benefit from a progressive procurement policy could take the form of worker co-operatives. This would mean that the workers, rather than the sole business owner or shareholders, would benefit.
A negative effect of improper waste disposal is litter and fly-tipping. One way of dealing with the problem is through education and advice to encourage people to dispose of waste responsibly. This also feeds into food waste, which is a major problem. Over a third of all food produced from farm to fork is wasted, with almost two thirds of that waste coming from consumers.
There are various schemes to help people reduce food waste:
• Love Food Hate Waste offers tips and recipes to help people to reuse and store excess food.
• Too Good to Go offers a ‘doggy bag’ to consumers to avoid food waste when eating out.
• The FairShare scheme redistributes surplus food from Supermarkets to people who need help.
Looking good so far. But is a circular economy compatible with the current neoliberal economic model? A paper published in the journal Ecological Economics questions the narrative that creating a CE will offer a panacea to our economic woes.
The paper notes that “the narratives of EU and bioeconomy as presented in (global) politics and by important interest groups have a theoretical basis in neoclassic models that endorse a strategy of top-down planning of technological fixes typical of the neoliberal ideology.” The paper goes on to question the assumptions made by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, that somehow CE principles can substitute energy consumption and other resources. It notes ‘the list of failed grand technological promises’ related to the ‘potentiality of market and human ingenuity’ and that, ‘It is very doubtful that it will be possible to expand the complete recycling of products and components at zero biophysical cost.’ There are many questions that we need to ask about circular economy in action, for example, whether it can broaden out to incorporate the whole of the wider economy, rather than just burning waste for power at the giant Polmadie incinerator.