5 things I took away from CIWM’s Resource Conference Cymru

Circular Online’s Darrel Moore reveals the five things he took away from this year’s CIWM Resource Conference Cymru event in Cardiff.

It’s always a pleasure to attend the CIWM Resource Conference Cymru event because there’s always a positive energy that fills the room. There is no shortage of good news stories and there’s always the feeling –– at least it’s the impression I get –– that Wales has its ducks in a row. 

This year was no different. The day was filled with stimulating conversations and engaging, interactive sessions (also the food was fantastic). Let me break down 5 of my takeaway moments. 

1 – The time for pledging is over, the time for doing is overdue

“The time for pledging is over, the time for doing is overdue”, according to the keynote speaker for the day, Sebastian Munden, Chair of WRAP. 

In this insightful session, we heard how Munden worked with Unilever to reduce its environmental footprint before working with WRAP. He said Wales is a good news story when it comes to its environmental efforts and foresees greater gains to come. 

Wales could see 20,000 jobs and £4 million in gain by 2030 from circular opportunities. He said what has to happen now is the need to drive acceleration. The Welsh Government will drive an increase in resources efficiency and move from high carbon non-recyclable materials to achieve zero carbon by 2050, use only its “fair share” of the planet’s resources and achieve a 70% recycling rate.

But there’s still much to be done. Not only in Wales, but globally. 45% of all carbon emissions come from the food and product systems, Muden said, and a third of all plastic packaging leaks into the environment.

He said there’s an incentive to disconnect over consumption and the need to establish the everyday normality of circularity. 

According to the IPCC, a circular approach would reduce the demand for natural resources by up to 70% by 2050. 

Circularity needs to move from “common sense” to “common experience”, Munden said. 

2 – The sector needs to focus on future skills – pretty much right now

Green jobs

The resources and waste sector needs to start thinking about the skills and resources it will need for the future… (clears throat), kind of now. 

We heard from CIWM’s Director of Professional Services, Katie Cockburn, as well as Sarah-Jane Widdowson, as delegates were granted a first look at the results from CIWM’s recent research on what skills the sector will need in the future to enable it to play its part in the circular economy. 

The report, which is due to launch next week, was undertaken with the objective of highlighting the urgent need to have the right skills and training programmes in place to decarbonise the sector, as well as play a critical role in supporting other sectors to do the same. 

The research will contribute to the UK Government’s Green Jobs Delivery Group with an aim of ensuring the resources and waste sector helps drive the UK’s green industrial revolution forward.

As Dr Adam Read, immediate past president of CIWM, says in the report’s foreword: “The Circular Economy is not an option.”

He said: ““As part of this report, we have engaged members and non-members alike from all aspects of the sector to share their experience and expertise with this timely contribution to an ongoing and critical government work programme. We welcomed their input, honesty, and commitment to understanding the sector’s needs and planning for its successful transition.”

Check back on Circular Online next week for all the details of this important research. 

3 – Citizens don’t realise how much economic power they have

UK shopping basketIt was interesting to hear from Munden that citizens don’t know how much economic power they have to effect positive environmental change. 

A delegate from the audience asked him why there aren’t more enlightened businesses trying to do the right thing.

Interestingly, Munden said he thinks there are many companies out there trying to effect positive environmental change and negate the potential negative impacts of their products.

He said he has discovered just how many companies there are that want to go further faster, and was, in particular, optimistic about both the food and drink industry and the consumer products industry – being very responsive to what consumers think and working to tap into exactly what they want. 

“I wonder why citizens don’t realise how much economic power they have,” he said.

He said he believes there are many in the food sector who understand they won’t exist for very long unless they fix these problems and that you can see the market share of “unacceptable products and packaging” going down. 

4 – The value of circularity extends beyond the environment

Delegates heard about the wider opportunities that the circular economy can offer from Sarah Ottaway (second from left), Sustainability & Social Value Lead at Suez.

Sarah is a Level 1 Associate Practitioner with Social Value UK and chair of the social working group for the Environmental Services Association. 

Social value is an approach that considers the holistic impact of a product or service, looking not only at value for money but also at social and environmental benefits and consequences.

Suez believes that wider adoption of social value can unlock billions of pounds worth of value for individuals and communities, and help to support an evolution of our economy that considers both people and the planet.

Sarah outlined some initiatives that added a social value to people’s lives, beyond the expected environmental impacts and benefits and discussed Suez’s “triple bottom line” approach – where it strives to consider and balance people, planet and profit throughout the business.

Among these, Sarah outlined a case study on its work with Greater Manchester Combined Authority to develop a reuse hub for the city. 

The reuse hub promotes upcycling, repair, and distribution and provides work opportunities for the population of Manchester, conserving resources while at the same time helping to ease those affected by the rise in the cost of living. 

The creation of this reuse hub resulted in a level of positive impact and ultimately allowed citizens to access items at a fraction of the cost compared to new products.

5 – Don’t let perfection get in the way of progress

Responding to another delegate’s question on whether reuse needs more focus, Munden said he was a fan of not letting perfection get in the way of progress.

It was interesting to hear from Munden about his experiences with companies that are hesitant because they’re worried about being accused of greenwashing, preventing honest attempts to do things better. 

He said the “reduce” part of the hierarchy often gets forgotten because it’s hard. The danger is that people get too focussed on work around recycling and reduction but these are just two elements of a whole that is interlocking.

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