LIVE UPDATE: The Festival of Circular Economy 2023

With the Festival of Circular Economy returning for its 3rd year on the 15 and 16 November, Circular Online brings you live updates and news over the two days.

Day 1

Experts Weigh in on the Circular Economy’s Progress and Prospects

As the world grapples with the escalating climate concerns and resource scarcity, the circular economy’s role in creating sustainable futures is a focal point at the 2023 Festival of Circular Economy, hosted by CIWM. Leading experts convened to dissect the current state of circular practices, the roadblocks encountered, and the innovations leading the way.

Mark Shayler, renowned author and circular economy expert, moderated the panel, setting the stage for the discussion. Shayler, who underscored the value of patience and steady growth with his apt metaphor, “The strongest wood comes from the slowest growing trees in the forest,” urged for a measured approach towards progress.

Reflecting on the last decade, Ben Withers, Associate Director of Waste Management at WSP, UK, critiqued the slow pace of action and highlighted the risk of a ‘lost decade’ amidst other pressing global issues. He emphasised the importance of maintaining momentum and public engagement to keep circular initiatives from becoming mere trends.

In the construction sector, Withers pointed out a dual focus on reducing costs and managing waste but noted a significant oversight in the non-circular impact of construction waste. He advocated for refurbishment over demolition, citing both environmental and economic benefits, and called for more comprehensive carbon accounting practices.

Left to right: Dr David Greenfield; Sophie Thomas; Matt Manning; Ben Withers; Mark Shayler

Dr. David Greenfield, Vice President of External Affairs at the Circular Economy Institute (CEI), called for enhanced collaboration across disciplines to overcome ‘friendly fire’—actions that inadvertently create barriers to circularity. He highlighted the Tech Tank initiative, which exemplifies the social and environmental value of circular practices through recycling technological devices and promoting digital inclusion.

Sophie Thomas, Designer in Resource Efficiency and Founder of etsaW Ventures, stressed the urgency of the climate emergency and the need for a significant shift in investment models.

Sophie Thomas – “We need to see a big shift in the way we invest. The traditional model is not circular. It’s a very linear model.”

Thomas highlighted the ‘great recovery’ concept and the importance of design for reuse in tackling the complexities of the circular economy. She also pointed out the potential of urban mining and e-waste as a resource-rich but underutilised field, requiring a redesign of products and systems for better material recovery.

Matt Manning, Head of Circular Economy at BT Group, discussed the interconnection between climate change, biodiversity, and the circular economy. He highlighted the tendency of consumers to hold onto old devices, which poses a challenge to recycling and refurbishment efforts.

Manning also shed light on the positive impacts of BT’s refurbishment operations and the need to overcome misconceptions about the quality of refurbished equipment.

The panellists’ collective insights paint a picture of a circular economy at a crossroads, with evident challenges but also burgeoning opportunities.

As industries and policymakers strive to align their strategies with circular principles, the call for a concerted, collaborative, and innovative approach has never been clearer.

Designing for a better world: Innovation and opportunity

circular economy design
Left to right: Lucia McDermott, Prof Mark Miodownik, Amy Peace, John Twitchen, Anouk Zeeuw van der Laan, Mark Shayler.

“All creativity is, is imagining a world that hasn’t arrived yet,” Shayler said. “We wouldn’t imagine a worse world, we’d imagine a fairer world.”

Moderator Mark Shayler, author and circular economy expert, opened the conversation by emphasising the crucial role he believes designers will play in a circular economy. This is because, Shayler says, creativity and innovation will be at the forefront of the transition to a circular economy.

Shayler sparked the conversation by asking if designers have embraced circularity as an opportunity?

Anouk Zeeuw van der Laan, research & design consultant for the circular economy, said yes they have embraced the opportunity but this has sometimes been done for the wrong reasons. Some companies are using circular design as a marketing tool rather than a change agent, she explained.

John Twitchen, founder/consultant, Stuff4Life, tackled the question from a different perspective and emphasised the importance of understanding why designers make the choices they make.

All creativity is, is imagining a world that hasn’t arrived yet.

When designing for a circular economy, Twitchen said it’s crucial to have a clear understanding of every choice made in the design process. Twitchen also highlighted the importance of reverse engineering as a tool for showcasing today’s problems and tomorrow’s opportunities for designers.

Focusing the design on the right element for the right product is essential, Amy Peace, innovation lead, circular economy, Innovate UK, said. Rather than thinking about the best way to incorporate recycled materials, Peace argued for lifecycle thinking to ensure designers are putting their efforts into the right component of a product to extend its life and reduce its environmental impact.

The biggest win is reducing consumption by making sure products last twice as long, Mark Miodownik, professor of materials & society, UCL, said. This prompted the question: why do consumers keep having to buy products regularly?

Miodownik said this is because designers aren’t winning the argument with boardrooms. He claimed corporate decision-makers are being dragged kicking and screaming towards a circular economy by legislation, such as Right to Repair, which is slowing the pace of progress.

Lucia McDermott, chartered resource and waste manager, Mott MacDonald, explained that not enough designers are focusing on longevity and are more interested in recovering value. She also warned that some designers are only making sustainable decisions because it’s written into policy, the process can risk becoming like ticking boxes.

Ahlstrom Aims for 90% Recycling Rate in Fibre-Based Packaging by 2030

Ahlstrom, a leader in sustainable materials, has made a decisive move towards a circular economy with its recent presentation at the 2023 Festival of Circular Economy.

Natasha Chorlton, the company’s Circular Economy & Recyclability Manager, outlined the company’s transformative approach to product sustainability and circular design.

In her talk titled “Weaving the Fibres for Circular Design, from Present to 2030,” Chorlton emphasised Ahlstrom’s strategy to transition from eco-design to circular design.

The company recognised that some of its products underperformed in sustainability, prompting a shift to renewable resources like wood and a focus on decoupling growth from fossil materials.

Ahlstrom has developed internal circular design guidelines that emphasise system-level thinking and span seven areas across product lifecycles. These include raw materials, manufacturing efficiency, customer efficiency, end-of-life considerations, and circular opportunities like service models.

Ahlstrom aims to increase the recycling rate of fibre-based packaging to 90% by 2030. This ambition is underpinned by an emphasis on scientific approaches, system thinking, and collaborative learning within the business and its value chain.

The guidelines prioritise product durability, reusability, repairability, and re-manufacturability, ensuring products are easier to recycle or compost.

Looking to the future, Ahlstrom aims to increase the recycling rate of fibre-based packaging to 90% by 2030. This ambition is underpinned by an emphasis on scientific approaches, system thinking, and collaborative learning within the business and its value chain.

The company also focuses on altering production and consumption patterns, as demonstrated by a new product launch that drastically reduces formaldehyde emissions in the automotive industry.

Chorlton highlighted the importance of co-innovation, driven by environmental, social, and economic considerations. Ahlstrom views co-innovation as a shift from product-focused innovation to a broader focus on materials and processes that impact overall sustainability. The complexity of this process necessitates collaborations across multiple value chain actors.

Chorlton reiterated the significance of circular design in creating better products and systems. She stated that Ahlstrom is at the early stages of realising the potential of circular design and expects increased value creation and capture in the future.

Mars Takes Bold Steps Toward a Circular Economy in Packaging

Mars, the global confectionery and pet care powerhouse, is making significant strides toward sustainability by revamping its packaging strategy to embrace a circular economy.

At the Festival of Circular Economy 2023, Feliks Bezati, the Global Circular Packaging Director, outlined the company’s journey from a linear to a circular approach to managing resources and waste.

Bezati said Mars recognised the urgent need to address waste pollution and the exhaustion of finite resources, such as oil used in plastic packaging. Bezati paraphrased Antoine-Laurent de Lavoisier, stating, “In nature nothing is created, nothing is lost, everything circulates,” to emphasised the natural cycle they aim to mimic.

Partnering with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, Mars has developed a circular economy strategy resting on three pillars: reducing unnecessary packaging, designing for circularity, and closing the loop through improved recycling infrastructure, partly financed by Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) fees.

Mars faces challenges, particularly with the third pillar, ‘Closing the Loop,’ due to the complex nature of recycling infrastructure and the involvement of numerous stakeholders.

However, the company has employed a Prioritisation Matrix and a Circularity Journey Guide to navigate these complexities, ensuring decisions balance packaging reduction, circularity enhancement, and emission reductions.

Antoine-Laurent de Lavoisier: “In nature nothing is created, nothing is lost, everything circulates”

Bezati says innovation is at the forefront of Mars’s initiatives, with pilot programmes for reusable packaging and the exploration of new materials, such as paper-based packaging with plastic layers that support recycling and compostable solutions for certain markets. A commitment to incorporate 30% recycled material into their packaging underpins their decisions.

Addressing a question about the recyclability of plastic-lined paper packaging, Bezati acknowledged the design challenges while explaining that the design allows the paper to be recycling while the plastic lining is sent to landfill or incinerated.

He explained that Mars is actively working to overcome these challenges by innovating in design to ensure that these materials can be effectively recycled.

This involves collaborating with recycling facilities and other stakeholders to develop scalable processes that can handle the unique properties of these hybrid materials.

Also during the Q&A session, Bezati addressed additional audience question on Life Cycle Assessments (LCIs), reiterating Mars’s commitment to reducing CO2 emissions from flexible packaging and improving its circularity.

The presentation wrapped up with a reaffirmation of Mars’s robust sustainability plan and its focus on addressing the challenges of recycling paper-based products with plastic coatings.

Mars’s journey reflects a growing trend among multinationals to prioritise sustainability and resource efficiency. The company’s efforts to redesign its packaging and invest in infrastructure highlight the private sector’s role in combating environmental challenges through innovation and strategic collaboration.

Navigating the legislative maze


In this exclusive presentation, Philip Mossop, CEO of climate tech leader Pentatonic, the headline partner of the Festival, gave delegates a look at Pentatonic’s newly launched AI Legislation Tracker.

“We’re witnessing an acceleration of legislative action in support of a systemic shift towards sustainable practices in a circular economy,” Mossop said.

Mossop argued that circular economy and technology businesses, especially newcomers, face a “daunting task” of keeping up to date with a multifaceted and global legislative environment.

Pentatonic’s new AI Legislation Tracker aims to help users with this task. Explaining the tool, Mossop said it is a real-time, human-curated, AI-powered tool that will help users understand the latest developments in the ever-shifting regulatory landscape.

The pace at which new legislation is being introduced is also accelerating.

The tool allows users to search and filter through legislations that are both proposed and adopted, as well as interrogate them through an AI agent. Users can ask specific questions about the legislation and identify actions that are based on the compliance requirements.

Currently, Pentatonic’s tool is tracking more than 304 legislations across the US at both a federal and state level, the EU, and the UK.

“The pace at which new legislation is being introduced is also accelerating, which reflects the urgency of our environmental imperatives. It’s needed. It’s long overdue in most cases, but it does make it difficult for companies to understand what it is they’re supposed to be doing,” Mossop told festival delegates.

We Measure Less Than 1% of the Waste We Process: Can AI Help?

The integration of Artificial Intelligence in waste analysis is not just a futuristic vision but a present-day reality, transforming how we approach waste management, compliance, and environmental responsibility.

At the Festival of Circular Economy, a panel discussion titled “What’s in Our Waste? How AI is scaling Waste Analysis to Reshape Operations, Inform Compliance Reporting, and Drive Behaviour Change,” shed light on the groundbreaking role of AI in waste management.

Sarah Foster, Chief Revenue Officer of Grey Parrot, moderated the panel, emphasising the urgent need for detailed waste data to meet the increasing demands of the sector.

She said: “Currently, we measure less than 1% of the waste we process, which means we are not fully aware of what’s in the remaining 99%.”

This signifies the need for better data capture to make informed decisions. What is in our waste influences policy, operations, trade, and even consumer behaviour, she said.

Currently, we measure less than 1% of the waste we process, which means we are not fully aware of what’s in the remaining 99%

The panellists, representing various expertise areas, discussed the transformative impact of AI on waste analysis and its implications for operations, regulation, and behaviour change.

Claire Shrewsbury, Director of Insights and Innovation at WRAP, highlighted the critical role of AI in enhancing data granularity. This data can significantly influence policy-making, operational decisions, and consumer behaviour.

Top left: Jonathan Caesar; Bottom left: Patrick Brighty; Right: Claire Shrewsbury

AI-driven waste sorting and data collection are proving pivotal in boosting recycling rates and shaping Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) initiatives.

Jonathan Caesar, Senior Technical Plant Engineer at SUEZ, delved into the operational benefits of AI in plant engineering.

AI technologies provide continuous monitoring and optimization of mechanical treatment processes, a leap from traditional methods reliant on manual sampling and subjective judgment. This shift ensures more efficient, accurate, and dynamic operation adjustments.

Patrick Brighty, Recycling Policy Advisor at the Environmental Services Association, addressed the relevance of AI from a policy and regulatory standpoint.

With new regulations demanding more frequent and diverse material sampling, AI emerges as a key tool to manage the increased burden and support the effective distribution of EPR payments.

The panel collectively underscored the significance of AI in driving the circular economy forward. By enabling more accurate and comprehensive waste data analysis, AI technologies are not only reshaping operations and compliance but also influencing global behaviour towards more sustainable waste management practices.

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