LIVE UPDATE: The Festival of Circular Economy

The Festival of Circular Economy is brought to you by CIWM in collaboration with other organisations in the Circular Economy, including the Circular Economy Institute, ReLondon and WRAP. Here at Circular Online, we’ll be bringing you up-to-the-minute news and live updates from this four-day circular economy-focussed event. Check back here regularly for more.

Day 4

“A consumption emissions lens”

Claire Shrewsbury (pictured above), Director Insights & Innovation, WRAP, welcomed delegates to the final day of #FOCE22 with the message that the circular economy and consumption needs to be brought more into the climate change conversation.

She said that WRAP was disappointed that COP26, which was held in Glasgow in 2021, had a distinct lack on focus on food systems, the circular economy and consumption.

Claire went on to say that when you look at the net zero policies put forward by G7 countries there remains a gap that could be tackled by looking through a consumption emissions lens.

This is a global issue that needs collaboration and people to tackle it

She said we can’t recycle our way out of this problem, and we can’t just decarbonise the energy sector. We need to look at what we consume and how we consume it.

Claire also highlighted the significant impact that circular thinking has in reducing the demand on natural resources and in helping to address biodiversity.

“Biodiversity should be the umbrella and climate should sit under it,” she said. “This is a global issue that needs collaboration and people to tackle it.”

“Impact investing” is increasing year on year

In the morning’s panel session, panellists discussed “Closing the loop – Why should you invest in the circular economy?”.

Lord Robin Teverson (pictured above), Politician, Liberal Democrat, said that investment is important because the circular economy is fundamental to solving the climate and nature crisis.

But that there are other reasons why it’s important, he said, saying that since the pandemic and the Russian invasion of Ukraine, there has arisen a need for a greater security of supply chains.

“People want to protect their supply chains and the circular economy is a good way to do that.” He said this reason alone will result in the profile of the circular economy being raised.

Jamie Butterworth, Founding Partner, Circularity Capital, said that in order for investers to invest you have to demonstrate a business case.

“Impact investing” is increasing year on year, with evidence of capital flowing into this space

He said the circular economy comes at a time when “impact investing” is increasing year on year, with evidence of capital flowing into this space.

Jamie, who was part of the founding Ellen MacArthur Foundation (EMF) team, said that responded to the question “what more can be done by policy makers?” by highlighting an EMF policy makers toolkit which looks at how policy can drive the circular economy.

He said at the moment the UK charges VAT on remanufactured goods despite being circular and helping to generate UK jobs. He suggested a way policy makers could increase circular investment is to reduce VAT.

Jamie stressed, however, that that is not a “Defra thing” but is rather a “systemic challenge” where different governmental department will need to come together. Something which is “traditionally hard to do”, he said.

This was echoed by Lord Robin, who said the circular economy will need buy-in from all areas of government. He said Defra doesn’t have a lot of “clout” so in order to drive change, departments such as BEIS or the Treasury will need to be involved.

“People need to get more excited about it and believe it’s something we can do,” he said.

Changemakers session: Fixing the Future

Dr Lachlan Urquhart and Dr Susan Lechelt from the University of Edinburgh took delegates through the challenges of making circularity a normal process for the Internet of Things (IoT). Both changemakers also spoke about the work grassroots communities and businesses, such as repair cafes, are doing to extend the life of technology.

The IoT describes physical objects with software, or other technologies, that connect and exchange data with other devices over the internet.

Dr Urquhart explained that the IoT has a short lifespan because technology is constantly evolving. For example, cybersecurity software must change and improve to prevent cybercriminals from getting ahead.

He also highlighted the problematic assumption that consumers can just buy a new thing when the current product they own breaks.

As a solution to this issue, Dr Urquhart said producers should increase the lifespan of security updates for new technology. He also contended that government should push for legislative reforms, while consumers engage with community movements such as repair cafes.

Dr Susan Lechelt picked up the conversation on community movements by telling delegates about online groups that have formed to help extend the lifespan of devices. On channels such as Discord, consumers are sharing advice, offering expertise and ensuring repairing is easier.

This sort of grassroots work must be brought to light to amplify consumer efforts, Dr Lechelt argued.

Fireside chat with Amazon

Host Mark Shayler’s Fireside chat with Amazon’s Rich Loretto discussed how the company has reshaped it’s approach to circularity.

Loretto explained that the circular economy team focuses on Amazon’s operations in Europe. The main areas he said they were currently working on were how to roll out repair services, as well as processes that allow consumers to easily resell and donate items. All goals he said needed coalitions and partnerships to enable solutions.

Explaining how Amazon has made progress with its packaging, Loretto said they had added a new “R” at the top of the waste hierarchy: remove. As part of a new process, he said Amazon now attempts to use the least amount of packaging possible; removing any excess packaging on a product by product basis.

We must utilise new technologies and push them to scale as quickly as possible.

Loretto went on to say that Amazon are working on how to recover plastic from consumers. Doing this requires an easy way to collect the plastic, both for the consumer and Amazon. Once this is achieved, new, efficient plastic applications have to be discovered – or scaled if already existing.

Right now, Loretto said Amazon are asking where they should focus their efforts. He said that currently there isn’t enough data on packaging and waste. Once this data is tracked, it will be easier to measure what flows from Amazon and consumers to different collections. Collecting this data is an area Amazon can help with, Loretto said.

To conclude, Loretto called for more consistent collections between local authorities and the adoption of deposit return scheme. “We must utilise new technologies and push them to scale as quickly as possible,” Loretto said.

Circular Insight Session – Hey Fashion! Initiative

Pentatonic’s Lauren Greenwood took delegates through the Hey Fashion! The initiative is dedicated to elevating the issue of textile waste in the fashion industry. She said that there is currently an emphasis on upstream interventions, such as designing for circularity; however, if downstream processes don’t keep up, the industry won’t be able to close the loop.

The initiative’s message is to push textile waste higher up the agenda, Greenwood explained. She went on to warn that there are currently little to no systems in place to handle the current amount of textile waste, and the waste stream is only going to increase.

Polyester use is expected to double by 2030 and less than 0.5% of textiles are recycled into new clothing, Greenwood highlighted.

Textile recycling could create a 10-20 billion dollar profit pool by 2030.

One issue she delved into was a lack of distributed knowledge across the industry. Greenwood said that carbon is often considered to be the only issue that needs solving. An investment gap is limiting access to the best solutions, Greenwood said.

However, she explained that the solutions exist. There is the technology that could drive 80% circularity if fully scaled. Greenwood continued that recycling can generate 3 times more jobs than landfill, so there are socioeconomic gains, not just environmental benefits.

“Textile recycling could create a 10-20 billion dollar profit pool by 2030. There is a huge opportunity, but it needs funding and attention,” Greenwood said.

Panel Discussion: A reflection of the past 4 days and where to next for the circular economy

The final panel of #FOCE22 focused on learnings from the past 4 days and asked where to next for the circular economy. Host Mark Shayler first brought Professor David Greenfield of the Circular Economy Institute into the conversation.

Greenfield said that the sector must understand consumer desire to learn how they can nudge this desire towards circularity. He continued that the narrative of the last 10-15 years has been on promoting recycling; however, now, the sector must shift the narrative to material management to achieve a circular economy.

“We need to find a more effective way of capturing materials before they become waste,” Greenfield argued.

Wayne Hubbard of ReLondon picked up the conversation by stating that Consumerism isn’t normal. It’s new. It’s not the normal state of affairs. “It’s a bizarre lurch of history,” Hubbard said.

We’re not there yet but FOCE has shown we’re travelling on the right path.

He said that circularity can, and often is, the better purchasing choice. This is why, he argued, the sector must move the overarching culture towards circularity, rather than the current feeling of seeing ownership as a status symbol.

WRAP’s Claire Shrewsbury went on to highlight that citizens behave differently in different areas of their life. While they may consider themselves environmentally conscious because they always recycle, they may also purchase exclusively fast fashion items.

The solution to this cognitive dissonance, Shrewsbury said, is to tell a better story. A better story could explain that a holistic approach is needed, she said. Shrewsbury continued that many marketing opportunities could inspire changes to ingrained behaviours, they just need to be used.

Lee Marshell of CIWM struck a positive note by saying that people are more engaged now than they have been. He said that we have to harness this feeling to achieve fundamental change.

The sector has to persuade people to buy less stuff, or buy stuff that lasts, Marshall explained. “We’re not there yet but FOCE has shown we’re travelling on the right path,” he said.

Day 3

Mark Shayler opened day 3 of the #FOCE22 with some more wise words.

Design for third use. Design for fourth use.

The consumer has woken up and business has no choice but to follow.

“Economy and ecology” – The word “eco” comes from the Greek word meaning home. Keeping our home and house in order.

Five circular business models

ReLondon’s Wayne Hubbard welcomed delegates on day three, which will look at “What’s next: sustainability and circularity”.

He said that it’s important to understand what the circular economy is but that it can sometimes be difficult for people to penetrate.

With this in mind, Wayne shared ReLondon’s five circular business models that he says can be replicated all circular businesses in some form.

These are:

  1. Using stuff wisely
  2. Using stuff again
  3. Making things well
  4. Renting, not buying
  5. Sharing

He shared that to tackle the climate crisis, globally, we need to reduce consumption based CO2 emissions by 50% by 2030 and 80% by 2050.

He said currently, Londoners are responsible for an estimated 10.5 tonnes of consumption-based CO2 emissions per person per year. And that London needs to reduce its emissions to help stay on track to meet the 1.5c limit.

Loops and cycles of the natural world

Tony Juniper, Environmentalist, Sustainability Advisor & Author, addressed delegates with the pre-recorded message that you can’t go circular on your own and that we need a common cause with other actors in the chain.

Tony Juniper is Chair of Natural England. Before taking up this role in April 2019 he was Executive Director for Advocacy and Campaigns at WWF-UK, a Fellow with the University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership and President of the Wildlife Trusts. Until January 2018 he was an independent sustainability and environment advisor, including as Special Advisor with The Prince of Wales’s International Sustainability Unit.

He said in the sustainability keynote, a spotlight on climate and biodiversity, that the circular economy is a subject whose time has come – if you look at the challenges facing humankind, such as climate change, biodiversity and pollution.

The circular economy is there for the taking”

He said the linear economy needs to change if we’re going to have a chance to reverse these environmental issues and that if we don’t change there will be disastrous effects.

He spoke on a number of elements that will help to spur this change. One was working toward an economy that is sustainable, regenerative and circular.

On circular he spoke about moving into a system where nothing is wasted, into an economy that would mimic the “loops and cycles of the natural world”.

“In nature there is no waste,” he said. “Imagine our economy in the future as something like a woodland…”

Tony stressed that circularity is about the whole supply chain and that if we’re going to have a fully circular economy, it will be necessary for all different actors to work together. “You need to think about the whole ecosystem across the whole chain”, he said.

“The circular economy is there for the taking,” he said. “And everybody can be part of the solution.”

“Design is the nucleus”

In the panel, Circular economy and the three R’s – reuse, repair, and refurbish, we looked at how the circular economy isn’t just about recycling products –– repair, reuse and refurbish are equally as important.

Chaired by CIWM’s policy and external affair director, Lee Marshall, panellists included Julia Hailes, Sustainability Campaigner and Author, who told delegates that there’s an assumption among the general public that if something’s recyclable “it’s fantastic”, but what people don’t realise is reuse is better.

However, she said, quite often we have an idea that reuse is the “sacred cow” and it doesn’t always make sense. She gave an example where heavy glass packaging has to be transported long distances, which would take more energy and create a greater carbon footprint.

On design, she said a lot of design briefs are focussed on selling more products rather than making longer lasting products. “We have to rethink the whole way we operate and incentivise people to do what’s better,” she said.

If the decision makers in control of finance don’t have the same policies, they’re not going to see the value

“Design is the nucleus,” Howard Mitchell (pictured above), Packaging Technologist for Lush, echoed. He said designers can be the enabler of change but they can’t do it in isolation. He said there is a need for buy-in actors all stakeholders.

“If the decision makers in control of finance don’t have the same policies, they’re not going to see the value,” he said.

Cat Fletcher, Co-Founder and Media Director, Freegle Reuse Network, aptly told delegates: “There’s no such thing as waste just stuff that’s in the wrong place.”

She said we need systemic change and that moving from products to service is a big way to incentivise manufactures to make products that last for life. She said wonders why new product or materials are permitted onto the market without a transparent lifecycle analysis.

“There’s no joined up thinking,” she said.

The engine room of the circular economy

Transitioning to a circular economy will reduce pressure on natural resources and create sustainable growth and jobs for the future. But what does circular implementation look like on a local level?

In the panel, Circularity in cities and regions, panellists representing cities and regions who have drawn up action plans and are actively testing and improving circularity in their economic sectors, value chains and services, shared how they make their circular solutions sustainable and accessible.

Chaired by David Newman, Director, BBIA, we heard from the Welsh Government’s Andy Rees how over the pandemic, the Welsh Government financed 180 circular economy projects, many of which were focussed on reuse and repair.

We think cities are going to be critical in the circular transition…

Hearing from ReLondon’s Antony Buchan, he said London does not operate in a vacuum but cities are important in our transition to a circular economy. He said that by 205o, 70% of the world’s population are likely to live in cities.

“We think cities are going to be critical in the circular transition,” he said. “They’re the engine rooms of the circular economy.”

Meaghan Davis (pictured right), Manager of Circular Economy and Innovation, Solid Waste Management Services, City of Toronto, told delegates how circular economy thinking is helping them shift from waste strategies and thinking more “upstream”.

She said that while the circular economy transformation is long term, it’s not enough to think 10 years ahead. “We need to think about what we can do now,” she said.

Plastics has an important role to play

In the last session of Day 3, The Great Debate – Can we recycle our way out of plastics?, the issue of plastics in the environment was covered, asking does recycling alone solve the plastic problem?

Helen Jordan (pictured above), Senior Recycling Expert, British Plastics Federation, said that plastic do not have a place in the environment but recycling alone can’t solve the plastic pollution issue, She did say it has a role to play, however.

She said the sector has come a long way already how far we’ve come already and there’s opportunity to develop recycling sector even further but there needs to be investment in facilities.

“We need more UK facilities,” she said, “and we need investment in UK recycling. We need money from the UK plastics packaging tax and form extended producer responsibility.”

We need more UK facilities… and we need investment in UK recycling

On the issue of exporting, Helen stressed that there’s a difference between exporting to a regulated facility as opposed to waste crime. She said waste crime gives the whole sector a bad name and there’s a misconception among the public where they assume waste criminals are a part of the waste sector.

Overall, Helen said plastic gets a bad press, but she said we need to consider the potential environmental consequence of simply materials swapping.

“Plastics has an important role to play,” she said.

This was echoed by Carlos Ludlow-Palafox, CEO, Enval, who said it’s not a plastic problem, it’s a plastic waste problem. He said if we had good waste management, plastic wouldn’t be an issue.

Michael Groves, Founder & CEO, Topolytics, echoed the need for infrastructure and, touching on the possibility of a UK plastic waste export ban, said that history shows if you ban something, people will work around it with what could result in an increase of dumping and illegal exporting.

“There needs to be a measured approach with infrastructure in the right places to capture more and process the material,” he said.

Wrap-up and key takeaways day 3

Mark Shayler closed day 3 of #FOCE22 with some final thoughts:

There’s a theme that has gone through the day: there’s no such thing as bad materials, just poor systems.

Climate is central to the circular economy. For a long time, we chased refill and refurbish models, but climate must be taken into account.

The shadow carbon impact: when stuff is made out of sight, it has a shadow impact we’re unaware of.


Day 2

#FOCE22 host, Mark Shayler, opened the second day of the festival by saying we’re at our most creative just before we fall asleep, which is when he hoped the concepts delegates learned yesterday inspired innovative ideas they can turn into tangible action.

Shayler then introduced Professor David Greenfield who spoke about how collaboration is key in the mission to transition to a circular economy. He continued that he was excited by today’s sessions and said a key priority for attendees should be to end the day by asking how I can deliver and make a change.

“We have to make a change and start disrupting the systems we’re currently working in,” Greenfield said.

Design Keynote: Looking back to go forward – the future of sustainable architecture

In the Design Keynote of day 2, Charlie Luxton, architectural designer and television presenter, said there is a lot of talking in the area of sustainable architecture and he wants to see more action.

Highlighting the impact the construction industry has, Luxton said that 40% of waste comes from the sector.

As a solution to this challenge, Luxton said that existing building stock must be intelligently and systemically refurbished. “We can solve multiple problems with one solution by thinking laterally,” Luxton emphasised.

We can solve multiple problems with one solution by thinking laterally.

Luxton continued that architects need to create designs that ensure a longer and greater life for buildings. He called for the industry to design buildings now and “run models about their future use to ensure they’re fit for purpose.”

The final ideas Luxton put forward were to list all the performance characteristics of the materials used in a building and to build with less waste.

Circular insights: From Ideas to Action. How the world’s leading brands are moving to a circular economy


Phillip Mossop, COO of Pentatonic, opened his insight talk by highlighting that the total volume of waste being produced per person is still rising exponentially.

He used this as a springboard to ask, under these circumstances, how do we move from ideas to action?

Mossop said that industry, brands, consumers and government all have a critical role to play. An example he explored was for government, he said that policy has the power to encourage behaviour change amongst consumers and influence industry.

Best waste is no waste at all.

To answer the question, how do we move from ideas to action? Mossop delved into several case studies from Pentatonic’s portfolio.

The first was the #Meltdown campaign the company created for Burger King following their commitment to end giving away single-use plastic toys. The campaign was part of a takeback system for any single-use toys, not only toys produced by Burger King.

Consumers were incentivised to return single-use toys with a free meal offer. Once Burger King had the toys, the mission was then to turn the toys into something more meaningful that can have a longer lifecycle.

The result was a food tray that children could also play with before it was recycled again at its end of life.

The next case study was a reusable dining kit which was rolled out at a festival organised by Pharrell Williams. The cutlery could be scanned on-site to secure discounts on food, as well as access to specific events.

Achieving circularity in construction

In the changemakers session, Achieving circularity in construction, Andrea Charlson, Bulit Environment Lead, ReLondon, said that we’ll never get to real net zero in the construction industry unless we implement circularity.

She highlighted the significant impact that construction has on the environment, highlighting that in London, construction contributes to approximately 50% of waste and that developing a circular economy in construction, the city could reduce carbon emissions by 38 % by 2050.

Andrea took delegates through a number of cases-studies that looked at different ways construction can be approached with the environment and materials in mind. One way to do this is to stop thinking about buildings as having a single use.

For example, schools are only used during the day, but in the evening and holidays when they’re empty they can have an entirely different use.

She said the challenge is that the great examples she presented are few and far between. This type of thinking needs to happen everywhere and be business as usual.

“The simplest circle is a triangle”

According to the World Economic Forum, the Circular Economy will be dominant by the 2030s. However, developing a circular business model is challenging, and circularity in business is sustainable only if value can be economically derived from the product.

In the panel session, Business reimagined – celebrating the circular business model, we heard from five very different speakers, all bringing with them their own experience of the circular business model.

Maya De Souza, Circular Economy Taskforce, Business In The Community BITC, highlighted that overall there still the need to get top level buy in and that there are problems that cut across the sectors, such as environmental costs aren’t fully priced into the system, as well for circular businesses – especially in the case of rental services – there can be an increased upfront capital cost.

Go from a linear to a triangle business

Mart Drake-Knight (pictured right), Co-Founder, Teemill, acknowledged there are problems to solve but that “we get paid to solve these problems”. He said for the people willing to put in the work to solve these problems and overcome these barriers there’s real opportunity there.

Mart went onto say suggest that thinking in terms of “triangles” instead of circles could help people make the initial mental leap to get buy-in. He said the simplest circle is a triangle. “Go from a linear to a triangle business.”

This line of thinking was echoed by Michelle Wilson, Programme Director, WasteAid, who said that sometimes perfect can be the enemy of good, saying we sometimes have to transition to an option that is better because there isn’t a perfect solution available. She emphasised that transitioning to a circular model is just that, a “transition”.

Read an exclusive Circular Online op-ed by Maya on why collaboration is essential to achieving a circular economy here.

Circular trailblazer’s panel: how can the circular economy move your business forward?

Professor David Greenfield, Circular Economy Institute, chaired the first Circular trailblazer’s panel on how the circular economy can move your business forward.

The first was speaker was Pranshu Singhal, Karo Sambhav an Indian-based company whose name translates to make it possible. Singhal said the organisation is on a mission to enable the circular economy at a population scale.

He went on to explain that he sees circularity as when a product can be transformed at the end of its life into something completely different. For example, recycling a plastic printer once it breaks and turning it into a park bench.

The CEO and founder of Grey Parrot, Mikela Druckman, picked up the dialogue by explaining that her company is a waste analytics platform on a mission to increase transparency and automation throughout the waste value chain.

She said there is an opportunity in the sector as it’s under-digitised – even today, less than 1% of data on waste is collected.

Druckman went on to explain that AI is an enabler of the circular economy. However, if organisations want to use AI, they need to collect more data. For example, data allows companies to identify areas on the supply chain that could be automated.

Designer Lucy Hughes, the founder and CEO of Marinatex, then picked up the discussion and said that her company is working on creating an alternative to single-use plastic films from seafood waste and red algae.

The project started while she was an undergraduate, Hughes said, and snowballed after a competition win that enabled her to work on Marinatex full-time. Hughes said she’s now working with 3rd party labs to create the material.

The genesis of Hughes’ idea happened when she visited a fish processing plant, she said. The texture, flexibility and strength of fish skin that was being thrown away set her on the path to coming up with the idea that these are the sort of polymers we should be using, rather than relying on conventional man-made polymers.

She went on to say that designers must be conscious of a product’s end of life to ensure it can be recycled. Hughes said that instead of simply focusing on the form and function of a design, they must identify what the product’s footprint will be.

Wrap-up and key takeaways day 2

Mark Shayler concluded day 2 of #FOCE22 with a few key takeaways from the sessions:

“Unzipping happiness from consumption is very important… moving from unconscious consumer to conscious consumer”

”Start with the end in mind”

“Do the one thing that’s right in front of you”.

Day 1

Mark Shayler, Founding Partner, Do Lectures, opened #FOCE22 with energy, welcoming delegates with some wise words:

“Design is the single most powerful environmental tool that there is”

“The rise of the purpose driven consumer is showing no decline”

“Waste is a design flaw and what we throw away says lots about who we are as a society”


Moving the world beyond waste

Following on from Mark, Liz Parkes, CIWM’s Chair of the Board of Trustees, and Deputy Director Climate Change for the Environment Agency, welcomed delegates with the message that circular economy is right at the heart of what CIWM is about. “Moving the world beyond waste”. She said we’re not going to tackle the climate emergency without coming back to basics… keeping our resources in use for longer.

She said there has been a “dawning realisation” in waste management that resource efficiency, the climate emergency and the nature crisis all come back to consumption. She said it’s not just about “smelly stuff”. She said not only are our consumption habits not making us happy, they’re not making us healthy.

We need to keep the planet’s resources going round, she said. We need to come back to realising the connection between how we live and planetary health.

The “age of consequences”

In the first keynote session of the morning, Mark Hoek (pictured left), global speaker and author, told FOCE delegates that she wanted to highlight two points during her talk. The first is that problems also tie into market opportunities, and the second is that the biggest opportunities are in “positive impact”.

On the first point, Marga said companies engaging with circular models are entering new growth markets and that businesses need to be motivated to recognise this as the opportunity it is. Yes, there are environmental problems to be solved – declining resources, the climate emergency, “plastic soup” in the oceans – but these present an opportunity for business.

On the second point, Marga said that businesses will need to go beyond “net zero”, not just stopping environmental harm, but actually becoming a positive force for the environment.

She used the example of plastic in the ocean and CO2 in the the atmosphere to make her point. We can stop plastic getting into the oceans, but the plastic that already exists in the oceans needs to be removed, she said. We can achieve net zero, but CO2 needs to be extracted from the atmosphere.

She said this is where the real opportunities for business lie. In this “positive impact”.

She told delegates that we’re in the “age of consequences”. She said that when you have the knowledge, you have the responsibility to act on it.

“We have a choice,” she said. “We have an obligation to choose to use technology for good and to make up for lost time.” She said if we invest in “positive impact” we can make ten times more ground in a year than we currently do.

Change of vision

In the panel session “Three big questions on… How to achieve a truly circular economy”, panellists set out to approach answering: how circular is the world today?; what are the barriers to circularity (economic, political, consumer); and what is the role of local government, business and the waste industry in making circularity a reality?

In the session Rubbish Ideas’ Connor Bryant (pictured) touched on the consumer barrier with the suggestion that a lot of focus and blame has been placed on the consumer, in effect making them feel like they’re part of the problem rather than the solution.

This isn’t a consumer problem… It’s where industry had passed the buck

Connor used the example of householders recycling their waste but that what creates a demands for these materials is the markets. He said there has been too much emphasis on the “waste problem” but not the issue of stimulating the markets to create the demand for post-consumer material.

“This isn’t a consumer problem,” he said. “It’s where industry had passed the buck.” He said consumers will operate in circular systems but virgin material has been favoured, subsidised and given tax breaks, creating an unfair playing field.

He said the biggest barrier to the circular economy is mindset. “We have the technology, we have the money, we just need to change our vision”.

Read Connor’s exclusive op-ed for Circular Online here, where he says “collaboration is key” if we’re going to create a waste-free world.

Fireside chat: Circular Start Ups and Innovators, and what the rest of us can learn from them


In the first Fireside chat of the festival, host Mark Shayler spoke to Ella Hedley, Emerging Innovators Manager at the Ellen McArthur Foundation, and Philip Mossop, Chief Operating Office of Pentatonic about the importance of start-up thinking if we’re going to transition to the circular economy.

Shayler opened the dialogue by self-deprecatingly saying he’s taken start-ups from nothing to nothing and to successful companies. He highlighted the importance of pushing through innovation without the fear of failure.

Headley continued in a similar vein by saying that the circular economy simply won’t happen without innovation. She spoke about seeing many start-ups building their business models through circularity; however, cited visibility as a key issue.

As a solution, Ellen McArthur Foundation has created a database on its website where organisations can find relevant start-ups, wherever they are in the world.

Mossop picked up on the conversation by emphasising that so many opportunities are seen as not pursuable. He told start-ups to get used to hearing the word no, that they’re pushing against 100 years of supply chain history; however, the circular economy requires solutions that haven’t been seen before, so don’t be disheartened.

He continued that circular solutions require new behaviours and materials, and an inability to adapt is holding these innovations back. Mossop contended that consumers were leading the race but government is catching them up and that industry has a lot of work to do. He said that if the circular economy is going to succeed, it needs a big enough scale for people to adopt, which only industry can provide.

Mossop highlighted that he’s seen more of a willingness from big companies to work with start-ups than ever before. He said that from conversations he’s had, these organisations are desperate for solutions and will search wherever they need to find them.

Headley rounded off the chat by explaining that the sector needs to have a conversation with both sides; those who are aligned with the circular economy and those who aren’t, who maybe see it as a box-ticking exercise. In these conversations, these sceptical organisations need to be shown that circularity isn’t a charitable cause, it’s a viable economic model.

Why design is crucial to enabling the circular economy?

Sophie Thomas, Circular Design Useful Simple Trust, opened her fascinating presentation by describing herself as a designer first and foremost.

She told delegates the industry landscape has changed as we’re now in a state of emergency, climate change is something everybody can notice and feel happening in the world. Thomas argues that this has put a fire under professionals which has the potential to inspire innovation and action.

Thomas went on to highlight the huge demand for raw materials, which she acknowledged fuelling as a designer. To unlock a solution to this unsustainable demand, she said that designers must become mindful of the environmental impact of extracting materials.

The elements in the periodic table are like the building blocks of the ways we design things.

As part of her presentation, Thomas, citing the example of a motor in a disposable toothbrush, emphasised the importance of the materials held in sometimes tiny everyday items.

She said these are the materials that power our lives and hold the key to net zero, so we must design products to enable us to reuse them once a product reaches the end of its life.

Thomas argues that designers should understand the legacy of their products and think about how materials can be recovered and used in a third or fourth life.

As a call to action, Thomas said every designer must be part of the move from a linear model of consumption to something much more complex, a truly circular economy.

Design and the Circular Economy. How do we use design to move beyond waste

The 2nd fireside chat of the day continued the theme of circular design by attempting to answer how should we use design to move the world beyond waste.

When David Greenfield, Circular Economy Institute CEI, put this question to Claire Potter she said that designers are natural problem solvers.

Potter said that designers must look beyond the obvious and potentially identify solutions to problems that the wider public might not be cognisant of yet.

As a creator of products, designers have a critical role to play in the transition to the circular economy, Potter said.

Potter argues that this involves having a clear understanding of who the product is for and how can you make sure they can use it for as long as possible. Designers shouldn’t assume the standard, most common material or process is right. Innovation could be the key to unlocking a sustainable solution.

When the question was posed to Sophie Thomas, she said that the first part of the design process must be to discover what you’re trying to find a solution for. Whether a designer is working from their own brief or a client’s, Thomas said they must ask if they’re being commissioned to find the right solution.

Thomas said that often, big organisations are making it difficult for consumers to make more sustainable choices. For example, she said that some products are designed as single-use, that don’t need to be, such as smartphones.

Thomas argues that it must be simple to extract materials from phones and reuse them. One potential solution she put forward was to shift policy to ensure single-use product producers are penalised for their design choices.

Wrap-up and key takeaways day 1

Mark Shayler concluded day 1 of #FOCE22 with his 4 key takeaways from the day’s sessions:

“Systems and materials need to work in tandem.”

“Start with the user; how do we make it easier for the user to make environmentally-conscious choices?”

“The sector should focus on circular, but must focus on the economy as well to showcase how circularity can grow businesses.”

“Government need to catch up on the will of the people and the ability of businesses to make a massive change.”


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