The Next Economy
Study Projects Creation of More Than 200,000 UK Jobs as Circular Economy Grows

The continued development of resource-efficient business activity, such as recycling, reuse and remanufacturing, could create demand for over 200,000 new jobs across Britain between now and 2030, according to a new study by Waste Resources Action Programme (WRAP) and UK charity and environmental think tank Green Alliance.

Employment and the circular economy: Job creation in a more resource-efficient Britain asserts that the development of resource efficiency will, unlike previous industrial transitions, require more labor.

Significantly, the report says that regions where unemployment is higher, such as the North East and West Midlands could see the greatest impact in job creation, especially among low- to mid-skilled occupations where job losses are projected for the future.

  • require an extra 205,000 jobs
  • reduce unemployment by roughly 54,000
  • offset 11 percent of future job losses in skilled employment

“We’ve long been talking about the benefits of the resource-efficiency agenda, working with businesses and turning ideas into action. But this report is the first of its kind that pinpoints exactly who, what and where could benefit from the implementation of the circular economy,” said WRAP CEO Liz Goodwin. “This signals a major new opportunity for Britain’s economy, and could deliver jobs where they’re needed the most.”

A circular economy is an alternative to the traditional linear, make-use-dispose model in which we instead keep resources in use for as long as possible, extracting the maximum value from them while in use, recovering and reusing products and materials, and utilizing waste streams.

Circular business models include those that design goods to last longer, which can lead to greater reuse and less waste; greater reparability, which can support the growing remanufacturing industry; and allowing for easy recovery and reuse of materials when a product is eventually recycled. Service models, which could include product maintenance and take-back schemes as well as rental and peer-to-peer sharing models, also hold much potential.

Walter R. Stahel, originator of the circular economy concept, said: “A circular economy will directly create numerous jobs with a broad diversity of skills at local and regional level, and give rise to new SMEs exploiting opportunities in the local loops. In addition, a circular economy will create skilled jobs to develop the innovative processes and technologies needed ‘to most profitably close the loops,’ innovations which can be sold abroad.”

The concept has continued to grow in appeal in recent years as long-term risks associated with resource scarcity and materials pollution have risen to the fore — it was a featured topic at last week’s World Economic Forum, which also hosted the first Circular Economy Awards recognizing organizations that are leading the charge.

“At a time when many are worried about where jobs will come from in future, it is a tantalizing prospect to have a sector which offers a wide range of new jobs right across the country, especially in regions with high unemployment,” said Green Alliance director Matthew Spencer. “To be able to stimulate these new jobs in remanufacturing and reuse, we will need government to play its part in setting higher standards for product and resource recovery. The biggest opportunity to do that is in the EU circular economy package which is being renegotiated this year, but the UK will have to become an active champion of higher ambition or we could end up with no new policy drivers for investment.”

In addition to the tremendous predicted job growth in the UK, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, which is dedicated to exploring the potential of the circular economy through research and business partnerships, has projected that transitioning to circular business models could generate over US$1 trillion for the global economy by 2025. In December, the Foundation began accepting entries for its latest Schmidt-MacArthur Fellow — a £10,000 opportunity for postgraduate design, engineering and business students interested in advancing the circular economy.

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