What is the circular economy innovation communities programme?

Dr Jennifer Rudd, AssocMCIWM, Programme Manager, Circular Economy Innovation Communities (CEIC), explains what the programme is and how it is supporting the sector work towards a circular economy.

An innovative programme has been running in South Wales for the last two years to help public and third sector organisations incorporate a more circular economy within their operations.

The Circular Economy Innovation Communities (CEIC) programme was funded by the Welsh European Funding Office in 2020 to promote regional working across the Swansea Bay and Cardiff Capital regions. CEIC has since worked with 126 representatives of 45 organisations to tackle topics such as insulation, carbon literacy, reducing waste in schools, access to land for food growing and many more.

The launch of the programme coincided with Welsh Government’s release of the Beyond Recycling policy document which mandates the incorporation of a circular economy by the public sector. The Welsh Government aims for Wales to be “zero waste by 2050” and make “resource efficiency part of Welsh culture”.

The Welsh Government aims for Wales to be “zero waste by 2050” and make “resource efficiency part of Welsh culture

The policy states the achievements made to date by local authorities, which are predominantly around waste services. Recycling centres have been described as evolving into modern eco-parks where businesses and enterprises cluster to reclaim the materials, capture added value and keep resources in use. Food waste has been reduced and is collected separately, fuelling anaerobic digestion plants which generate renewable energy around the country.

However, the Beyond Recycling policy document predominantly looks at the circular economy as a waste and technical issue. The CEIC programme is adding to the understanding of the circular economy in Wales by looking beyond the technical application, into the social application. The outcomes of the programme reflect the heart of the public servants who participate; circular economy solutions that are focused on people.

Participants from the public and third sectors in South Wales join a CEIC cohort, which meets once a month for a period of ten months. At the start of the programme participants are encouraged to form sub-groups around a specific challenge. Over the ten months they ideate, prototype and test circular economy solutions to that challenge. To inform the solutions, the participants are exposed to examples of circular economy best practice throughout the programme.

CEIC Case Studies

One CEIC cohort was themed around the decarbonisation of social housing with representatives from local authorities and third sector housing associations across the Swansea Bay and Cardiff Capital Regions. One group, with representatives from two local authorities and one housing association, was interested in creating a procurement framework for local authorities to satisfy local circular economy development.

After engaging with stakeholders, this was refined to using Welsh wool as an insulation product in social housing. The group then came up with two possible outcomes 1) the development of a Welsh wool procurement toolkit and 2) the use of discarded woollen products for use as insulation material.

Upon further reflection, the group developed a business plan for the use of virgin Welsh wool for insulation. This included shearing and scouring Carmarthenshire sheep and then converting the wool into insulation to be used in Carmarthenshire buildings. This was a solution that supported both a circular economy and foundational economy.

Another group was interested in how to engage tenants with retrofitting programmes happening across the housing sector in a bid to reach net zero emissions targets. This group had representatives from three housing associations and two local authorities.

They started with the question “How might we meaningfully engage with our residents to influence behaviour so that our carbon reduction commitments are satisfied taking into account funding, capacity, and capability?”.

By working together at a cross-organisational level they were able to pool resources and create one video to be used by everyone

Conversations mainly focussed on education, either of school children who would then take the message home to their parents, or of the tenants themselves, through the tenant engagement officers.

Following stakeholder engagement and further reflection, the group decided to work together to make a cross-organisational video which would teach tenants about climate change, show testimonials from tenants who had already engaged with the retrofit programme and give tenants an overview of the sorts of adaptations that would be coming to their home.

Tenant engagement officers would be able to show tenants the video in their own homes, prior to an individual conversation about retrofitting their home, and the video could go out on social media channels of all organisations.

By working together at a cross-organisational level they were able to pool resources and create one video to be used by everyone, rather than each organisation creating their own video. This is now in the prototype phase and will be going into tenants’ homes in the next 3 months.

These are just two examples from a number of CEIC cohorts that have completed. Whilst the first speaks to the technical, waste reduction side of the circular economy, the second shows that circular economy principles can be applied to more socially focussed problems.

If you want to find out more about the programme, you can visit www.ceicwales.org.uk for more information.

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