How going circular can help protect our planet
Ask any Yorkshire business and they will agree that we live in a time of challenge and change. Brexit is around the corner and a Local Industrial Strategy is being drawn up which must respond to four grand challenges (sustainable growth, artificial intelligence, an ageing population and transport). The question is how best can we respond to these changes?
At a recent workshop, hosted by the York, North Yorkshire East Riding Enterprise Partnership, I spoke along with speakers from academia, the public sector and business. Over the course of the day we set out a radical ambition for change. I say radical because this is nothing short of a complete systems overhaul.
A vision for those of us living and working in YNYER to build a new type of economy – a circular economy. If you’re wondering what that means, so was I. It turns out it just means making the most of everything we have, similar to a ‘waste not, want not’ ethos.
Today we live in a linear economy. We take virgin raw materials to make food or products, consume them and throw them away in favour of buying new. In contrast, a circular economy makes use of the materials and resources at every moment of that product’s industrial manufacture, retail journey, household consumption and how we throw it away. Everything has a value to somebody. The question is how to unlock it.
Too complicated? I argue we have little choice. Waste plastic is smothering our oceans as we are now desperately aware of thanks to David Attenborough’s amazing Blue Planet. A couple of weeks ago the world’s scientists gave us 12 years to stop climate change catastrophe. 12 years. Not even long enough for our children to grow.
Even our soil is dying yet we still waste around a third of the food we produce. I know this is doom and gloom, but it stresses how urgently we need to do things differently.
So why not start right here in Yorkshire? We live in a region with an outstanding combination of a thriving bio-based industry, world-class science and wonderfully diverse agriculture. These three things make us one of the best places in the world to ask the questions needed to build a circular economy. E.g. how can we avoid food waste? How can we make useful things from the food waste we can’t avoid? Or how can we replace fossil fuels with renewable feedstocks? Stop throwing plastics into the sea?
At the LEP workshop, we heard from some Yorkshire businesses who are leading the way. For example, Fera Science provides research and expertise to support farming and food businesses to be sustainable using the most up-todate innovation. Or there’s Drax.
Their power station is switching from burning coal to biomass in Europe’s largest decarbonisation project. They are looking at capturing carbon dioxide with a young spin-out company from Leeds University.
And while it’s easy to focus on larger companies, our circular economy will be built from the grassroots up by small and micro businesses who make up the majority of our business. At the workshop, we saw even small companies benefit from adopting circular approaches.
The LEP, who put on the workshop, are playing a huge role in making our circular economy a reality at scale. I was really struck by what Katie Thomas, the LEP’s circular economy lead, said: “As a unit of change, LEPs are small enough to understand the nuances of local economies and stakeholder needs, yet large enough to connect public, private and other sector organisations, to build momentum, create circular systems and deliver impact.” My own organisation, BioVale, is dedicated to building a circular economy using renewable feedstocks such as food waste and plants.
We support the innovation that can make this happen and we do this by bringing the region’s businesses, scientists and farmers together to swap ideas, hear about new technologies, access expertise and build new partnerships. We also help connect the region to overseas investment and other useful circular economy contacts across the wider UK and world.
To make radical change, we need radical collaboration.
We need to share knowledge, skills and resources; to create new research partnerships; and to build circular supply chains. BioVale, the York, North Yorkshire and East Riding LEP and others will be crucial in supporting such collaborations, so please use us.
We ended our workshop by signing a pledge. We each pledged to adopt changes to make our own organisations, businesses and communities circular.
To ask ourselves how we can achieve economic growth that is economically and environmentally sustainable. Perhaps your company can do the same?
Talking of which, if you are interested in joining us in building a ‘circular’ Yorkshire and the development of an action plan, contact Katie Thomas at katie. firstname.lastname@example.org
If you’d like to know more about BioVale and how we can help your business, contact email@example.com or take a look at www.biovale.org
PLAYING A PART:Drax power station’s switch from burning coal to biomass is Europe’s largest decarbonisation project.