Blog: How can Wales spend to support the circular economy?

The recent CIWM Cymru Wales webinar ‘How can Wales spend to support the circular economy?’ explored how the public sector can adjust its buying habits to support a circular economy in Wales. Brian Mayne, Chair of CIWM Cymru Wales and webinar chair, highlights some of the topics raised by the presenters as well as their answers to a few of the questions raised during the session along with their reactions to the audience polls. It also highlights some additional material Brian believes is relevant to the topic.

The speakers at the webinar were:

Ashleigh McLennan, who is employed by ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability, where she focuses on public procurement and the circular economy. She has authored numerous European Commission publications including “Public Procurement for a Circular Economy” and “Making Socially Responsible Public Procurement Work”, and supports procurers directly through the European Commission’s Helpdesk for Green Public Procurement.

Dr. Eurgain Powell is a Change Maker for the Office of the Future Generations Commissioner for Wales and leads on a range of policy issues including decarbonisation, transport and procurement. She has developed the Future Generations Framework for Projects and authored several reports including “10 point plan for funding a climate emergency”(2019), “5 point plan for a Green recovery” (2020) and “Procuring well-being in Wales” report (2021).

And last but not least Dr. Jennifer Rudd who, in her own words, is a slowly reforming technical scientist with a background in climate change mitigation technologies. Jennifer is currently Programme Manager of the Circular Economy Innovation Communities (CEIC) programme lead by Swansea University which aims to help the public and third sectors incorporate more circular economy practices within their organisation.

Ashleigh was the first one up to make a brief presentation and highlighted ‘that procurement is a really powerful tool for achieving sustainability. Everything a government buys has an impact on the environment as well as on businesses, workers and citizens’ in addition it can be a lever to encourage businesses to change and innovate.

Eurgain outlined that the public sector in Wales spends around £6.7 billion annually and picked up on the theme raised by Ashleigh that public procurement can have an impact on societal outcomes. She explained that the Well-being Act should be the overarching framework for public procurement in Wales and that procurement is one of the seven corporate areas for change in the Acts statutory guidance[1] and it must be a key area of focus for public bodies in meeting their obligations under the Act.

Jennifer looked at the angle of how procurement can encourage businesses to find new ways to develop and deliver services and products and raised the issue of how ‘life cycle assessments’ can assist in evaluating the environmental effects associated with a product, service, or process over its entire life-cycle.

This led perfectly into the first poll where attendees were asked to select their preference of the options when considering ‘What actions should Welsh Government carry out to deliver circular procurement?’ as one of the choices was that a whole life approach[2] should be adopted. This was in fact identified by the audience as the most important of the suggestions forwarded. It was followed by Welsh Government embedding the circular economy into current procurement practices and public bodies they support.

In her response to the poll results, Eurgain reminded everyone that procurement is at the heart of the Welsh Government’s Beyond Recycling strategy, which aims to make the circular economy a reality in Wales, and mentioned WRAP Cymru and the work they are undertaking to support public sector procurement in Wales.

A key theme of all the speakers was the use of terminologies such as sustainable, green, circular procurement and the need to be clear about what we mean by each of these models. The circular economy pioneer, Dr. Walter Stahel in an interview in the latest CIWM magazine, Circular, highlighted this very point when he said “…it’s really important to define exactly the concepts; we have to make clear what they are, what the differences are between the different strategies, and the advantages, opportunities and limits[3]. 

The impact of this lack of clarity and its effect on procurement professionals was emphasised by a comment from an audience member who stated that ‘from a procurement perspective, there is a lot of legislation and priorities coming our way…. foundational economy, circular economy, social value, well-being of future gens, etc. With minimal resources, it feels like we are under increasing pressure and the spotlight is very much on us. Lots of these acts/initiatives overlap, and we need a clearer more defined act covering what we need to focus on.’ A view supported by the panellists.

The next poll looked at what the audience considered were the biggest barriers to circular procurement with some of the issues (skills, resources, unwillingness to change) raised were identified in the poll, but it was limited awareness of the financial and environmental benefits of circular procurement that attracted most votes followed by a focus on lowest purchase price rather than the total cost of ownership[4].

The benefits of a circular approach to procurement are documented in the case study of Public Health Wales[5] who moved offices in 2016 and decided to procure an office design and furniture supply contract that resulted in diverting 41 tonnes of waste from landfill – with a CO2 saving of 134 tonnes – whilst creating permanent jobs for several disabled and long-term unemployed people.

The next poll looked at what the audience considered is the best way for Welsh Government to engage with the market to promote a circular economy. An overall majority considered that meeting with industry bodies and representative groups was the most effective way to engage with the market to promote the circular economy. This approach enabled the public sector to discuss its needs and allows representatives of that industry to explain how the business works, present possible solutions and provide contacts for relevant suppliers.

The final poll looked at how important is the circular economy in unlocking social value in the supply chain with a majority 82% agreeing it did. Ashleigh, whilst welcoming the result, cautioned attendees that the circular economy does not automatically result in social value unless it is made an explicit goal. Eurgain emphasised that the Wales Procurement Policy Statement recognises that public sector procurement is a powerful lever with the ability to affect sustained change to achieve social, economic, environmental and cultural outcomes for the well-being of Wales.

Jennifer returned to the need for clarity when discussing the circular economy and informed the audience of a definition that incorporated societal, environmental and financial benefits [6].

In conclusion, a number of key issues were raised around delivering the circular economy, these included the need for clarity around what we mean by circular procurement, recognition that there are increasing pressures on the professionals we entrust to deliver procurement projects and ensuring that we incorporate environmental, social as well as economic benefits in our procurement processes. This way we can ensure that public procurement can play a key role in transitioning to a circular economy in Wales and beyond.



[1] Shared Purpose: Shared Future, SPSF 1: Core Guidance.

[2] A whole life approach means thinking not just about a cradle to grave plan for product purchases, but a cradle to cradle plan. When the product has served its purpose, what is the next step? How can it be reused, remanufactured or repurposed?

[3] Phil Lattimore, Circular motion, Circular, March / April 2021

[4] Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) is a financial estimate used to calculate the direct and indirect costs associated with the purchase and ownership of something over time.

[5] Public Health Wales Accessed 06/04/21

[6] Van Buren, Demmers, Van Der Heijden & Witlox (2016) Towards a circular economy: The role of Dutch logistics industries and governments. Sustainability, 8(7), 647

AUTHOR Brian Royson Mayne

Brian is a fellow of the Chartered Institution of Wastes Management and Royal Society of the Arts, Chartered Environmentalist, and is recognised by the International Solid Waste Association as an International Waste Manager. He is chair of CIWM Cymru.

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