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Time to start thinking in circles

May 17, 2016

 

The invitation over the phone by a colleague to a “euro-techy thing” sounded less than enticing.

 

If he’d mentioned that the subject was a concept called the “circular economy” then I’d probably have made some excuse or other.

 

As it happens, I spent a large chunk of the day hearing how Unilever, Philips, Google, Ikea and BT are all rethinking their approach to manufacturing.

 

If you’ve never heard the phrase “planned obsolescence” my advice is don’t worry as it’s about to disappear from our vocabulary anyway.

 

The underlying principle is that Earth's finite natural resources will not be able to meet ever-growing demand, driven by population growth and wealth creation.

 

Our current linear approach to creating consumer goods is unsustainable. The proposed alternative is a circular model where output and input have greater synergy or where the waste from one process becomes a resource for the next.

 

This practice of so-called ‘re-manufacturing’ is a fairly radical departure from conventional methodology but the thinking has been around for some time. Indeed a big cost issue in industry is the tendency to classify materials as waste far too early in the production process.

 

By retaining these resources within manufacturing set-ups, it’s possible to extract a far greater value, or so the theory goes.

 

The circular economy concept has already made the leap from academia to boardrooms across Europe and beyond.

 

 

More and more firms are completely rethinking how products are made. Redesign work is making them more durable, easier to dismantle and assisting repair and reuse.

 

If we do decide to stay in the European Union, then it’s possible that we’ll benefit from the £4.7bn Circular Economy Package. This will allow companies to make greater use of resources that are currently discarded and link into recycling targets.

 

When you think that the EU currently imports more than 60% of its raw materials then you can see how the package is estimated to produce €600bn (£472bn) a year in savings by 2030 and help create jobs.

 

Jaguar Land Rover is moving forward in the same vein. The car makers currently produce several vehicle models from aluminium. The product is lighter and more fuel efficient but manufacture uses more energy and pumps out greater levels of CO2.

 

The result is that JLR has opted to use recycled aluminium – otherwise called “post-industrial scrap”. Over half its aluminium supply now comes from recycled sources with plans to increase the percentage further.

 

Let’s be clear. We are not necessarily on a path to consumer Nirvana here. Manufacturers will still be churning out the very latest models every so often and their marketing machines will still be urging us to buy them. What will change is that consumer waste becomes a potential resource.

 

Of course there is the issue of how savings made here will impact on third-world economies that rely on exporting their raw materials to Europe. All the more reason then, say its proponents that circular thinking goes global as soon as possible. Let’s hope so.

 

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Square-bashing again

 

Talk to anyone in Swansea under the age of thirty about “Castle Gardens” and I guarantee that you will get a blank look in return.

 

 Similarly, for all the emotive phrasing about how a “green oasis” became a “concrete wasteland” it needs to be remembered that what we now call Castle Square is actually surrounded by grassed areas and mature trees.

 

 

Despite the attractive piazza design appreciated by visitors and the regular public events, the square remains a subject of controversy.

 

I agree it’s looking a little tatty. A couple of decades of skateboarding has taken its toll on the surfaces and stonework.

 

Renovation will be an expensive business and we have an expectation to look to the council to come up with something cost-effective.

 

I have no idea what is planned but I’m willing to wait and see before commenting.

 

I just wish we’d heard the same official outrage when swathes of trees and greenery were lost to allow the precious boulevard to be built.

 

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Not in my name

 

I don’t think I’m alone in wondering what was going on in the Welsh Assembly last week. Whatever it was, it seemed a long way from what people expect from their politicians.

 

For the last three months, the parties have been telling us how vitally important it is to have the right people in the Senedd representing our interests.

 

Yet within hours of signing on for another five years, a bunch of them decide to play silly-burghers.

 

It’s a sad fact that so-called gesture politics is inevitably part and parcel of the democratic package. Yet there’s a time and a place for such antics and I really do hope that some folks have not started as they mean to continue.

 

One more thing, the next time that someone stands up claiming to speak on behalf of the “People of Wales”, I’d much prefer if they left me out of it, Ta.

 

 

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