Dublin Circular Economy Hotspot – the circular economy journey



Ray Georgeson FCIWM, Head of Policy, Impact and Evaluation for Zero Waste Scotland, recaps his experiences at the Circular Economy Hotspot.

In Ireland, there’s a well-known joke where someone lost in the countryside stops a passer-by to ask, “How do I get to Dublin?”. The passer-by says “Well, I wouldn’t start from here.”  

Sitting on the sun deck of the Belfast-Cairnryan ferry on the way home to Scotland this joke came to mind whilst reflecting on an exceptionally action-packed Circular Economy Hotspot event in Dublin. 

It reminded me that it wasn’t that long ago our starting point on the journey to a circular economy was one that we wouldn’t have wanted to begin from either.

Only a few decades ago we were dealing with very high levels of dependency on landfilling.

Only a few decades ago we were dealing with very high levels of dependency on landfilling, little investment in recycling infrastructure, low levels of public engagement and very little understanding about the concept of a circular economy.

In fact, a YouGov survey for YoungPlanet last year reported that only 13% of UK respondents were aware of the circular economy – with only a slight increase amongst the Scots at 23%.

The current circular economy landscape


The situation has radically changed for the better. Over the past two decades, we have seen an increase in infrastructure investment, a steady rise in recycling rates and the beginning of consciousness about circularity.

This hasn’t been the easiest concept to popularise but thanks to a growing understanding of planetary boundaries; a desire to “do the right thing” with resources by consuming differently; and the hope for fairness towards people in the Global South in the way we use materials extracted from their countries and then send “recycling” back to them; we have at least the foundation for the next parts of this important journey.

The Circular Economy Hotspot Dublin 2023


There was an insight into these pressing topics during workshops on textiles production, consumption and reuse, and food systems reform among many others. The workshops were complemented by headline presentations from pioneers in circularity and talks from our Irish hosts about their own accelerating journey.

Scotland was also represented alongside these experts with our Chief Executive, Iain Gulland, discussing citizen engagement in a panel session.

The value of meeting colleagues from other countries and sharing experiences and learning is more precious than ever. 

The Circular Hotspot concept has become an important moment in the calendar. Especially in this post-pandemic period of reconnection in person, the value of meeting colleagues from other countries and sharing experiences and learning is more precious than ever. 

On this occasion, much like similar past experiences, our hosts did a magnificent job in staging an excellent programme, showcasing their own developing approach to circularity and in the case of Dublin, providing a social backdrop that is truly unique to the fair city.

What did I learn?  


For a start, there is no single fixed path to a circular economy. 

Every nation and region has their own starting point and unique circumstances in terms of geography, population, affluence, dependence on fossil fuel extraction and use, entrepreneurship, government appetite for support and direction, and levels of public engagement.  

Identifying a baseline of resource use and flow through Circularity Gap Reporting is an important element, so is being prepared to be ambitious in target setting and objectives even if the route to meeting those objectives is not completely clear. 

Here in Scotland, our Circularity Gap report provided us with an understanding of the most impactful opportunities.

Here in Scotland, our Circularity Gap report provided us with an understanding of the most impactful opportunities, and how these can be delivered through coordinated action from government and business.

Today, we embrace repair, remanufacturing and restoration as there are many good examples of social innovation that create meaningful work, community engagement and social cohesion – many of which were featured in Dublin.

It’s critical that the social value added from a circular approach to resource use remains in communities and this will become an increasingly important element in the future direction of a circular economy.

What’s the next step on the journey to a circular economy?


We know, like any long journey, the one to a circular economy remains full of pitfalls and hazards as well as uphill and downhill battles – stamina is required.

In Scotland, our next steps include preparation for a new Circular Economy Bill and Circular Economy Route Map which will set out the Scottish government’s ambitions and objectives for the coming years, laid in parliament very recently and starting its parliamentary journey in the coming months.

It will give Scotland the powers and solutions to help us to consume differently, use resources efficiently and, crucially, boost our economy. Creating a way of living that’s more sustainable and that benefits businesses and citizens alike.

May the road rise up to meet you.

It will provide the legislative framework required to support Scotland’s transition to a zero waste and circular economy, significantly increase reuse and recycling rates, and modernise and improve waste and recycling services.

A dual approach is necessary for achieving this – firstly, to accelerate the good practice that already exists, in supporting business, social enterprise and the public sector to become more circular and secondly, to set out the rationale for deeper, strategic changes that may still be needed, particularly around the use of fiscal incentives and penalties to really drive our economies towards environmental sustainability.

“May the road rise up to meet you”, as the Irish would say, whilst we carry on this journey together towards a circular economy.

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