The recent CIWM Cymru Wales webinar delivered with support from the Welsh Government on ‘Reuse, Repair, Refill and Remanufacture’’ resulted in an informative debate focusing on how the country will build on the excellent work on recycling in Wales to progress further up the waste hierarchy. Chair of CIWM Wales Cymru Brian Mayne highlights some of the discussions and poll results of the webinar in this blog.
David Warren, Head of Circular Economy Policy Development, Welsh Government delivered an illustrated overview, including some holiday snaps of reuse in action such as Barry Island’s bucket and spade bin where visitors can leave beach toys if they don’t want to take them home for others to enjoy. David also highlighted the role of Repair Cafesand the amazing and pioneering independent businesses that have been championing refill and reuse in our high streets. Examples of remanufacturing in Wales and abroad were also provided. Importantly he also explained that financial assistance was being offered to support reuse, repair, refill and remanufacturing in Wales through schemes such as the Circular Economy Fund.
He summarised his presentation by reminding the audience that:
- We have a unique opportunity to do things differently
- The circular economy is more than recycling
- It’s a plan for improving social, economic and environmental outcomes.
And importantly he wanted to hear the views of stakeholders.
The first question from the audience was specifically about the refill initiative aimed at increasing the availability of high-quality drinking water. Hannah Osman, REFILL Wales Manager explained that the project established in 2018 is supported by the Welsh Government and water companies Dŵr Cymru and Hafren Dyfrdwy. It aims to grow a huge network of refill points across Wales to offer access to free tap water to members of the public. They already have 1700 businesses involved. As their website says ‘It has never been easier to swap a single use plastic bottle for a taste of the rolling Welsh mountains’. David highlighted the Welsh Government is committed to making Wales the world’s first ‘Refill Nation’.
Following the questions, the first poll was run and tackled the references made by respondents to the Beyond Recycling Consultation on the principles of the waste hierarchy, and their concerns that priority on high recycling targets are an extension of the linear economy, obscuring prevention, that should be the focus when moving towards a circular economy.
The audience was split 50/50 between those that agreed and those that didn’t. David made it clear that recycling has provided the foundation for the strategy but the circular economy goes further. Dr. Greg Lavery, Director, Rype Office believed that this was not a simple issue and requires a sector by sector approach. Rebecca Colley-Jones, CIWM Cymru Wales Representative and reuse specialist highlighted that some things that presently go into recycling, could be reused instead. Rebecca recognised that in order to do this it would require a concerted campaign of awareness raising for this to happen.
David reminded everyone that the targets in Wales include preparation of reuse, and asked for views on whether the best measure would be to identify the amount of waste prevented.
The audience was then informed that the technology exists for customers to refill their consumer household goods in local stores. Everything from lotion to laundry detergent can be transferred cleanly and easily. The question was posed why aren’t we doing it? The audience was provided with some of the biggest barriers that have been identified which hold back consumers using refill shops or online refill sites. The majority (78%) of those that voted identified that they considered the biggest barrier to refill initiatives was that it was ‘Less convenient than buying packaged items. This was followed by nearly half (48%) considering it to be more expensive to use refill stores. Hannah was not surprised by the outcome and highlighted, like Rebecca, that a key element of ensuring the use of refill schemes was behaviour change. Rebecca believed things were changing and opportunities were increasing in the world of refill and provided examples such as the Oxford Waitrose store where customers can use their containers to buy and refill various produce items such as cereal and pasta and LOOP who are working with Tesco on a trial to get customers products delivered conveniently to their door, and then put the used empty packaging into a reusable tote and request a free pick-up and refill. Rebecca put forward the argument, the more this type of scheme is used the more likely they will become more available, convenient and less expensive.
Moving on from refill the next poll looked at remanufacturing and in particular the many challenges for increasing remanufacturing and reuse. The audience identified that ‘Products are often not designed for manufacture’ (83%) followed by the lack of collection infrastructure to collect the materials (68%) as the main challenges.
Products not being designed for manufacture is confirmed as one of the key obstacles by the Centre for Remanufacturing & Reuse, who state that ‘Many of the products best suited to remanufacturing are complex with a high embedded value. However, these products are often not designed for remanufacture, i.e. are difficult to disassemble, difficult to replace individual components and difficult to test’
Greg agreed with the weighting of the challenges and highlighted that in his area of expertise office furniture that there is no issue regarding the availability of furniture to be remanufactured it’s the collection infrastructure that is missing. He informed the audience that 300 tonnes of office furniture go to landfill every working day in the UK whilst 200 tonnes are recycled.
David expanded the debate by highlighting that whether it was reuse, remanufacturing, or recycling, the importance of connecting the materials collected to businesses that need the materials was imperative. He went on to draw attention to how in Wales we are addressing the issues of designing for manufacture through initiatives such as the RemakerSpace Centre which supports and promotes re-manufacturing and the circular economy in Wales by providing businesses with the skills, equipment and awareness to rethink the design of products to smaller scale initiatives such as the Gwynedd Re-use Partnership a collaborative project between Gwynedd Council, Antur Waunfawr, and Seren, aimed at encouraging households and organisations across the county to re-use unwanted larger items so they can be passed on to someone else who needs them.
On the topic of community re-use initiatives and social enterprises, the Beyond Recycling consultation outlines the potential strategic use of already well-established projects to expand reuse provision. Existing examples acknowledged in the strategy include repair cafés, re-makeries, library of things (e.g. Benthyg in Cardiff) and men’s sheds. However, it was highlighted that such initiatives were currently limited in capacity and required considerable coordination and support to provide the community engagement and services required for a circular economy approach.
The audience was asked how the welsh government could work with communities and social enterprises to support the growth of reuse/repair/remanufacture. The top three ways the government could support these organisations were, incorporating initiatives such as reuse shops into existing household waste recycling centres (73%), helping locate circular economy initiatives in areas of high footfall such as a library of things close to supermarkets (69%) and providing reuse credits (56%) where an organisation would be paid a financial ‘credit’ for example for furniture and other items recovered from the domestic waste stream for redistribution.
Rebecca believed that this poll and the previous one was interconnected. She pointed out that collection and convenience were imperative and in particular, the ways items are collected can have a major impact. Citing the electronics industry, she explained that take back schemes where products such as large household WEEE items are collected with care achieved a 10% reuse rate, whereas similar items collected at HWRCs only achieved 1% reuse.
Greg highlighted the role that policy measures, such as the landfill tax, have had in driving the growth of reuse, repair and remanufacture. Enforcing Greg’s point on the role of policy measures it is worth mentioning that a revised Extended Producer Responsibility framework is a major opportunity to encourage manufacturers to design products that enable reuse, repair, refill and remanufacture through appropriate charges, taxes, or subsidies.
Greg also highlighted that the Welsh government has a role through public sector procurement. David responded by highlighting that the Beyond Recycling consultation had identified that improving resource efficient procurement within the public sector is a positive first step towards circular economy principles.
The importance of case studies to expand reuse provision by inspiring and informing others was raised by a member of the audience. David suggested that the WRAP Cymru website be the first port of call for those interested to see examples that are taking place in Wales and that Circular Economy Wales also have a useful website with examples.
The final poll looked at what a number of environmental commentators have been saying, which is that as a result of the pandemic, many consumers have been changing their behaviours and shopping habits. Also, it has been recognised that the resulting economic shutdowns have created unparalleled challenges for industry, including declining consumer spending and disrupted supply chains. This situation may accelerate the shift to greener, more sustainable supply chains, but are these changes likely to remain long term. 51% believed that once things settle down, and let’s hope they do, we will return to our old habits and purchase as before, whilst the remaining 49% believed that we will see a change and consumers and brands alike will embrace sustainability. The panel agreed with the latter and believed that we will see consumers and businesses develop and keep sustainable actions adopted during the pandemic. Hannah gave an example of a refill shop, Awesome Wales, operating successfully when legally allowed throughout the pandemic to the extent that the business had announced an expansion with the opening of another store, demonstrating resilience and confidence in consumer support.
The webinar through the many excellent examples of Reuse, Repair, Refill and Remanufacture in action provided by the panel undoubtedly offered a vision beyond recycling. All participants recognised that there are a number of challenges and barriers that need to be addressed but importantly they were able to highlight ways in which they could be overcome which will enable Wales to become a zero waste, net zero carbon nation that uses its fair share of resources and seizes the economic opportunities from the transition to a circular economy.
Author: Brian Royson Mayne
Brian is the chair of CIWM Cymru Wales. He is a fellow of both the Royal Society of Arts and Chartered Institution of Wastes Management. He is also a Chartered Environmentalist and recognised by the International Solid Waste Association as an International Waste Manager.