WRAP speaks to the Green Alliance / CBI conference on resource security

PRODUCT reuse could hold the key to issues of resource security says WRAP


You’ll remember that the Footprint Awards we themed the evening around “upcycling”.  There are echos of that concept in what WRAP have highlighted in this speech to the Green Alliance/CBI Conference.


Growth of the world’s emerging economies, and a corresponding increase in the consumption of the raw materials needed for the manufacture of goods and services means that resource security is an issue of increasing importance for the UK.


But the resulting pressure on securing the often scarce or expensive materials that are vital to new, green technologies could be eased if the UK took a different approach to the way it consumes these resources, according to Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP) chief executive, Dr Liz Goodwin.


Speaking at the Green Alliance / CBI conference ‘Building resilience: resource security and the role of the circular economy’, Dr Goodwin said that by pursuing the opportunities for reuse, the UK could reduce its reliance on raw materials, including rare earths, by as much as 20% by 2020.  Download speech from the resources above


WRAP estimates that around 600 million tonnes of products and material enter the UK economy each year, with only around 115 million tonnes being recycled. “Rare earth metals account for just 1,600 tonnes of this flow, but they are found everywhere – from vehicles, TVs, computers and ceramics, fuels, energy generation, and pharmaceuticals,” she said.


“We are heavily dependent on these materials for so many everyday items, but recycling rates associated with these resources are generally very low, often below 1%.”


With this in mind, WRAP has identified some ‘quick win’ resource efficiency strategies, covering a range of materials including copper, lithium and cobalt as well as rare earths, which could not only help reduce the UK’s carbon footprint by 2020, but could also help address wider supply security issues.


“Our research shows that in general, it’s the strategies that extend the life of goods or reduce the consumption of electronic and electrical goods that have the greatest impact,” said Dr Goodwin.


“The biggest ‘quick win’ impacts can be attribute to four approaches – lean production, waste reduction, lifetime optimisation and ‘goods to services’, where the number of leased products is increased and the number of outright purchases are decreased.”


Dr Goodwin highlighted the opportunities presented by tackling the amount of waste electronic and electrical equipment (WEEE).  “We estimate that between now and 2020, in the UK, we’ll dispose of 12 million tonnes of WEEE. A quarter of this will comprise IT equipment, consumer electronics and display devices, which in turn, will contain around 63 tonnes of palladium, and 17 tonnes of iridium.


“At current market prices, this amount of palladium would be worth £1bn, and the iridium, around £380m.”


Recovering these valuable metals at the end of products’ useful life is one option, but as Dr Goodwin added, there are other strategies that would help make better of existing resources, and which may, in turn, lead to new, financially-viable business models.


She pointed to new WRAP research that shows that almost a quarter of all WEEE taken to household recycling centres has a reuse value, which could deliver £200 million gross revenue each year. “This alone could make 100 tonnes of rare earth elements – almost 10% of UK demand – available again,” she said.


“More than a fifth of the WEEE could be immediately sold on, or repaired and refurbished for resale, bringing financial benefits to those involved. The end result would be that we’d be a step closer to the elusive closed loop, green economy model.”