Zero Waste


Resource depletion. For many years global economic growth has relied largely on the availability of cheap energy and raw materials. Between 45–60 bn tonnes of raw materials are extracted from the earth every year. With demand for material goods increasing and reserves of raw materials being finite, reducing resource use is becoming a key driver for competitiveness and resilience.

Accumulation of waste to landfill. WRAP estimates that of the 600 mn tonnes of products and materials that enter the UK economy each year, only 115 mn tonnes are recycled. This costs money – an estimated £3.2 bn to local authorities in 2011–12 – while creating significant environmental damage.

By pursuing opportunities for re-use, the UK could reduce its reliance on raw materials, such as rare earths, by as much as 20% by 2020.


An Economy That Works would promote durable products designed and produced so that they can be repaired, re-used and recycled. At the end of their usable lives products could be disassembled and remanufactured, while others could be recycled or composted, reducing waste sent to landfill.

This dynamic is known as a circular economy, which is restorative by intention and design, in which products do not quickly become waste but are reused to extract their maximum value before safely and productively returning to the biosphere.


An economy that takes waste out of the equation will:

  • Create jobs and spur innovation as economic activity shifts from resource and energy intensive production processes to more labour intensive remanufacturing processes. There are a potential 314,000 new manufacturing jobs based on this model
  • Reduce net material costs and drive resource productivity. Estimates suggest an additional £10 bn in annual profits for manufacturers
  • Increase the supply of raw materials through recycling, reducing the UK’s dependency on imports and potentially lowering prices
  • Reduce waste to landfill with its associated financial and environmental costs, including reducing up to 27 mn tonnes of CO2 equivalent greenhouse gases every year


A zero waste economy can bring many benefits including:

  • Revenue growth through the development and commercialisation of resource and waste management systems
  • Circular production models that reduce materials costs while building products that last can reduce the costs of warranties
  • Increased profitability through remanufacturing where reduced raw material and processing costs both outweigh increased labour costs
  • Reduced exposure to resource scarcity risks
  • Brand differentiation through sustainability practices and greater engagement with customers through product take-back and re-use models

How business can contribute to a zero waste economy

  • New consumption models: “The circular economy advocates the need for a ‘functional service’ model in which manufacturers or retailers increasingly retain the ownership of their products and, where possible, act as service providers – selling the use of products, not simply their consumption.”59
    Such models include the shift from products to services and the increased sharing of products for multiple use
  • Product and services development: Businesses can develop opportunities by embedding these models in their product and services development cycles. In order to take advantage of these benefits, businesses will need to collaborate at every step of the value chain. They will also need to adapt their after- sales approach and ensure the traceability of components and materials
  • Disclosure: Transparent disclosure of material throughput and a company’s exposure to resource scarcity in their annual and sustainability reports will help generate support for a zero waste economy in the investor community
  • Finance: Develop investment vehicles that reward zero waste business models based on their reduced reliance on scarce resources


The recommendations from the Circular Economy Task Force, a government-supported, business-led group convened by Green Alliance, suggest the following government interventions:

1. Clarify exposure to risk

  • Conduct a government-led study into exposure to material insecurity, starting with sectors identified by the industrial strategy as those most able to contribute to growth
  • Require Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) based on a unified methodology across the EU

2. Broker co-operation

  • Create sector specific road maps using the industrial strategy model for government and industry collaboration, piloted through the delivery phase of existing industrial strategies

3. Enable system design

  • Implement stricter Individual Producer Responsibility
  • Set re-use, recycling, collection and disassembly requirements
  • Use landfill bans as the intervention of last resort for high volume, low value materials
  • Set green public procurement rules specifying more circular products
  • Promote design that enhances repairability, recyclability and disassembly

From Linear to Circular

Source: Please download or view our Report online for a full list




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