Assessing the West Midlands’ Circular Economy Potential
The West Midlands is one of the largest conurbations outside London. Its central location puts it at the heart of England’s travel network and the region has strong international connections.
The region remains the manufacturing hub of the United Kingdom (UK) and was home to the industrial revolution. It saw tremendous growth until the 1970s/1980s. Although growth has slowed since, the region is seeing a resurgence in economic activity as it sets
its ambition to become the hub for a green and circular industrial revolution in the country.
The West Midlands has a strong business and professional services sector, and a technology-driven manufacturing base, with key strengths in the automotive and aerospace sectors. The region will continue to see extensive city-centre construction growth and is one of the biggest educational clusters outside London (eight universities and world-class research institutions produce 55,000 graduates every year).
At the same time, the West Midlands suffers from high-levels of inequality, poverty, youth unemployment and low skills, as well as poor health and school performance. Some of these issues have been further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and Brexit.
A transition to a circular economy can help the West Midlands :
- Recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and Brexit;
- Build on its existing strengths;
- Address issues affecting its local communities; and
- Achieve its ambition to catalyse a green industrial revolution.
These regional strengths and challenges led us to develop a SWOT analysis, which was further informed by desk-based research and stakeholder engagement.
Please note: For the purpose of this report, the West Midlands refers to the geographical area covered by the combined authority’s local authority members and the three Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs). Nevertheless, this report does also take into account strengths and opportunities for the wider West Midlands region, beyond the combined authority’s reach, particularly regarding logistics, food and agriculture.
The West Midlands region is home to numerous circular economy businesses, exemplar projects and industrial ecology expertise. The West Midlands was home to the National Industrial Symbiosis Programme and is building on this legacy.
- Educational institutions have a strong presence in the region and are leading on several circular economy research projects.
- Strong grassroots community groups are already involved in the sharing economy, forming peer-to-peer networks to exchange and reuse resources.
- The West Midlands is part of the golden triangle of logistics in England, a position it can leverage to recover and trade resources.
- Resource flows of several economic sectors in the West Midlands generate value which can be further tapped into.
Existing best practice examples and demonstrator projects can be scaled up and/or replicated.
- WMCA and its LEPs are well-positioned to act as a convenor of circular economy experts and key stakeholders, and be an advocate for more collaborative processes. The combined authority can also lobby for stronger national policies.
- By strengthening linkages between research institutions and businesses, the region can lead across the UK in the commercial application of innovative circular solutions.
- SMEs in the region form a large part of the economy and with the right support can significantly contribute to circular economy innovations, bringing more circular products and services to the market.
- A circular economy can build the region’s economic resilience, in particular against volatile and increasing resource prices.
There is a lack of coordination across the region regarding policies and infrastructure. This is exacerbated by the lack of strong national policy and legislative frameworks to drive action.
- There is not enough strategic planning across the region to support large-scale circular processes.
- Existing partnerships around waste and resource flows do not neatly fit into collaborative governance structures.
- SMEs often do not have enough resources or capacity to innovate and develop circular products or services.
- High-levels of inequality, unemployment and deprivation across the region undermines a transition to an inclusive, green economy.
- Local communities and businesses still do not fully understand the circular economy, and the benefits and opportunities it presents.
- Fragmentation across different local authority boundaries could slow down the transition to a circular economy.
- COVID-19 and Brexit have put a strain on resources to invest in new circular economy projects, and has disrupted supply chains. The loss of European funding is a particular threat for existing and new circular projects.
- Uncertainties over new trade rules could impact the region’s economic growth and competitive advantage.
- Complexity of the circular economy and the requirement for partnerships across multiple sector could prevent creation of shared goals and shared outcomes. Path dependency and the power of the status quo can also deter transformative change.
- The region’s reliance on energy from waste and the subsequent diversion of resources for incineration could restrict circular economy activity.
Place based mapping
Circular activities in the West Midlands
A place-based mapping exercise was conducted to better understand current circular economy activities, key stakeholders and existing waste infrastructure. The first step was to research existing circular economy projects, enabling networks and early adopters. The West Midlands already hosts various circular economy activities and it must build on this existing best practice, scale up current projects and support early adopters to accelerate its transition to a circular economy. These are not exhaustive lists and the maps are for visual representation purposes only.
Circular economy research centres
Brownfield Research and Innovation Centre (BRIC), University of Wolverhampton
Black Country and Marches Institute of Technology, Dudley
Energy and Bio products Research Institute (EBRI), Aston University
Centre for Circular Economy and advanced sustainability (CEAS) Aston University
- Birmingham Energy Institute, University of Birmingham (UoB)
- National Centre for Decarbonised Heat, UoB
- Circular economy research network (CERN), University of Warwick
- Manufacturing technology Centre, Coventry
- Institute for advanced manufacturing and engineering, Coventry
- Warwick manufacturing group, Coventry
- National transport design centre, Coventry
- centre for Agro-ecology, water and resilience, Coventry university
Circular Economy Support Programmes and Networks
Built Environment Climate Change Innovations (BECCI), University of Wolverhampton
Environmental Technologies and Resource Efficiency Support Services (EnTRESS), University of Wolverhampton
Cast Metal Federation, Dudley
UK Manufacturing Symbiosis Network Plus (UKMSN+), Aston University
Advanced Services Group (ASG), Aston Business School
- Alternative Raw Materials with Low Impacts (ARLI), UoB
- STEAMhouse, Birmingham
- Circular Economy Club (CEC), Birmingham and West Midlands
- Sustainability West Midlands, Birmingham and West Midlands
- Birmingham and Solihull Industrial Symbiosis (BASIS), Birmingham and Solihull
- Midlands Aerospace Alliance, Coventry
- The Enterprise Hub, Coventry
- The Green Business Network, Coventry and Warwickshire
Circular Economy Adopters and practitioners
- Dunton Environment Waste Treatment Facility, Walsall
- Urban Hax, Walsall
- Kiondo, Walsall
- Kew Technology, Sustainable Energy Centre, Sandwell
- Jericho Foundation, Birmingham
- Incredible Surplus, Birmingham
- Eat Make Play, Birmingham
- Aceleron Energy, Birmingham
- International Synergies, Birmingham and West Midlands
- Koolmill, Solihull
- UK Battery Industrialisation Centre (BIC), Coventry
- EXERGY, Coventry
- Pod Cafe, Coventry
- Emmaus, Coventry
- Food Union Community Gardens, Coventry
Circular economy pilot projects and demonstrators
- National Brownfield Institute, University of Wolverhampton
- National Centre for Sustainable Construction and Circular Economy (NCCSCCE), University of Wolverhampton
- Recycling Supply Chain for Luxury Cars Project, UoB
- Tyseley Energy Park, Birmingham
- Birmingham Energy Innovation Centre, Tyseley Energy Park, Birmingham
- Food Trails, Birmingham
- West Midlands Gigafactory, Coventry
- RESO Project, Coventry
- SIMBIO Project, Coventry University
- Coventry Food Justice Network, Coventry
- Repowering the Black Country Industrial Hubs, Black Country
Businesses in the West Midlands
The second step in the mapping exercise was to identify large regional businesses and SMEs. All businesses identified have their headquarters and/or branch office in the West Midlands. Several of them also have a national and/or international presence.
This is not a complete list of regional businesses and more can be added over time. This represents an initial selection of principal manufacturing, construction, design, consultancy and food businesses present in the region.
The large businesses were selected based on their annual turnover and/or their number of employees. Given these businesses’ size and economic power in the region, it is critical that these businesses take the opportunity and are supported in adopting circular processes.
SMEs make up a large part of the West Midlands’ economy and are crucial players in supporting a circular economy transition. With appropriate support and incentives, these businesses can lead a circular economy transition, creating new jobs and social value for the region. An ecosystem that supports a circular economy needs to be created to enable SMEs to take full advantages of circular opportunities. The list of SMEs presented in this routemap was obtained through stakeholder engagement.
- EDM Group, Wolverhampton
- Jenks & Cattell, Wolverhampton
- Genex, Walsall
- Majestic Aluminium Anodising Ltd, Walsall
- Essentia Protein Solutions, Dudley
- Clamason Industries, Dudley
- Marcegaglia UK, Dudley
- Dalair, Sandwell
- Voestalpine Metsec, Sandwell
- Briggs Amasco, Sandwell
- Gowling, Birmingham
- Anixter, Birmingham
- Slow Food, Birmingham
- Edible Eastside, Birmingham
- Precision Micro, Birmingham
- CHEP Automotive, Birmingham
- Birmingham Stopper, Birmingham
- Supply Technologies, Birmingham
- Barchester Healthcare, Birmingham
- The Scrapstore, Birmingham
- Harada Industries, Birmingham
- Multimatic EU-Matic, Coventry
- Circom, Coventry
- Coventry & Warwickshire CDA, Coventry
- Microcab Industries Limited, Coventry
Selected Large Businesses
- Moog Aircraft Group, Wolverhampton
- Jaguar and Land Rover, multiple locations
- Guardian Warehousing, Wolverhampton
- ELG Carbon Fibre, Wolverhampton
- Durbin Metal Industries, Walsall
- Alchemy Architectural Aluminium Systems, Walsall
- Urban Splash, Walsall
- West Midlands Foundry Co, Sandwell
- Aluminium Products Ltd, Sandwell
- TRS & East End Foods, Sandwell 11. Doocey Group, Sandwell
- Polydrain Civils, Dudley
- Speller Metcalf, Dudley
- Barratt Homes, Dudley
- JCB, Birmingham
- Make UK Technology Centre & Hub, Birmingham
- Wing Yip, Birmingham
- Coleman Group, Birmingham
- Hadley Group, Birmingham
- National Express, Birmingham
- Cundall, Birmingham
- 2 Sisters Food Group, Birmingham
- Totally Modular, Birmingham
- Gensler, Birmingham
- Balfour Beatty, Birmingham
- Mondelez International, Birmingham
- Tarmac, Solihull
- Lendlease, Solihull
- Gymshark, Solihull
- ARUP, Solihull
- Meggit, Coventry
- Spyker Cars Headquarter, Coventry
- Rolls Royce, Coventry
- Ford Motor Company Limited, Coventry
- Tata Steel Automotive Engineering, Coventry
Waste and resource management infrastructure
The third step in the mapping exercise was to locate key waste and resource management infrastructure in the region. Although this is not an exhaustive list, this map shows the spatial connection between circular economy projects, key businesses and enabling infrastructure. Investment in waste and resource management infrastructure will be necessary to support a shift to a circular economy including more reprocessing facilities, anaerobic digestion plants and resource recovery hubs.
The West Midlands must have the appropriate waste, energy and transport infrastructure to support a shift to a circular economy. This is explored further in Chapter 3.
Veolia Recycling Centres and Reuse Shops, Multiple locations
SUEZ Recycling and Recovery Centres, Multiple locations
Biffa, Multiple locations
Lower Reule Bioenergy Recycling Centre, Wolverhampton
Hazardous Waste Recycling, Sandwell
Hazardous Industrial Services Chemical Recycling and Disposal, Sandwell
Severn Trent Green Power West Birmingham Anaerobic Digestion Facility, Dudley
Minworth Sewage Treatment, Birmingham
Metal and Waste Recycling Centre, Birmingham
Severn Trent Green Power West Birmingham Anaerobic Digestion Facility, Birmingham
Veolia Household Recycling Centre & Energy Recovery Facility, Tyseley Energy Park, Birmingham
HWRC Recycling Centre, Solihull
Veolia Wood Recycling Facility, Solihull
CSG Coventry Oil Recycling and Disposal, Coventry
Recycling and Reuse Centre, Coventry
Concentrations of activity
Transitioning to a circular economy will require coordinated interventions across diverse stakeholders, projects and activities. The mapping exercise provides a clear visualisation of how these different components are spatially connected and how identified concentrations of activity can be leveraged.
Three initial concentrations of activity have been identified in Wolverhampton, Birmingham and Coventry. It is worth noting that the Wolverhampton concentration of activity can be extended
to the entire Black Country as strong circular economy activities have also been identified in Dudley, Sandwell and Walsall. It is also worth noting that these concentrations of activity are to
be expected since cities benefit from higher density of homes, businesses and related economic activities.
The next chapters in this routemap build on these concentrations of activity, leveraging existing expertise to kickstart a circular economy in the region. These maps, concentrations of activity and themes have also informed the selection of priority areas.
We recommend that WMCA creates interactive, online maps building on the work produced in this routemap. These maps should be updated frequently to ensure they remain up-to-date and are linked with other complementary initiatives.
WMCA is also building a library of case studies, which will include examples of best practice in the region and will mention other regional companies that are already involved in the circular economy.
Key themes for this concentration of activity are construction, metal manufacturing and aerospace.
- Leading in sustainable construction and brownfield remediation. This includes the National Brownfield Institute, the National Centre for Sustainable Construction and Circular Economy and the Construction Futures Research Centre.
Wolverhampton will be the second national headquarter for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and home to the government’s Modern Methods of Construction Task Force. Wolverhampton is also the first English City to sign the European Circular Cities Declaration.
Part of the West Midlands’ aerospace cluster.
The Repowering the Black Country project is identifying 4 industrial clusters in each local authority. Each cluster will build on regional strengths such as metal reprocessing.
Key themes for this concentration of activity are enabling networks, leading research programmes, community groups and food processing.
Leading research and development cluster with University of Birmingham, Tyseley Energy Park and Aston University.
Rich circular economy support programme with ARLI, ASG and BASIS, and circular economy networks like the Circular Economy Club and UKMSN+.
Presence of several community-led groups focusing on the sharing economy and on food justice and equity.
The Greater Birmingham and Solihull LEP’s Food Manufacturing Cluster is being developed in this concentration and will focus on circular economy activities.
Key themes for this concentration of activity are automobile manufacturing, battery manufacturing and aerospace.
Automobile manufacturing cluster of the region, with headquarters of Jaguar Land Rover and offices of Ford Motor, Rolls Royce and Microcab Industries.
Part of the aerospace cluster with the Midlands Aerospace Alliance.
Leading research and development centre with the Warwick Manufacturing Group specialising on food processing technologies, robotics and artificial intelligence.
Material flow analysis
A high-level material flow analysis was produced, focusing initially on five key sectors identified in the West Midlands’ Local Industrial Strategy. It sought to map the material flows within the West Midlands, including their relationships with energy systems. A complete breakdown of this material flow analysis, including data sources used, methodology followed and boundary of the analysis, is presented in the Supporting Document: Business Analysis.
Following extensive stakeholder engagement, the analysis was refined to three sectors which all build on the region’s strengths. To inform the development of strategic interventions, more detailed material flow analysis for these sector’s were carried out. These analyses are presented in this chapter and have informed the key findings for each priority areas. The geographical boundary for this analysis is the combined authority’s three LEPs’ geographical area.
The region is 3.8 times more reliant on non-renewable materials than renewable ones.
- 26.3 million tonnes of minerals consumed in the region every year.
- 5.7 million tonnes of natural resources consumed in the region every year.
- 58% of resources consumed in the West Midlands do not go to landfill or incineration each year.
7.4 million tonnes of waste still end up in landfill or incinerated each year.
The Construction, Demolition & Excavation sector is the largest consumer of minerals in the region.
Regional mineral consumption:
- 82% Construction, Demolition & Excavation
- 18% other sectors
72% of waste from industry and manufacturing is re- processed, recycled or reused in some fashion every year.
Food and agriculture sector
- consumes 4.5 million tonnes of natural resources per year.
- is largest consumer of energy and water in the region.
- consumes 800,000 tonnes of natural resources per year.
£2 billion could be generated each year if 50% of West Midlands’ population participated in reuse and sharing networks.
Re-processing and re-using resources generates 6 times more gross value than sending them to landfill.
Circular Inflows - 6734
Linear inflows - 1463
Data is key
Consistent collection required for in-depth analysis for key sectors. Further in-depth analysis is required.
Amsterdam Circular Strategy 2020- 2025
As part of its strategy, Amsterdam mapped its main material flows from entry to processing,
in order to preserve valuable raw materials. The strategy then focused on three value chains: food and organic waste streams, consumer goods, and the built environment. This approach was successful and complemented by in-depth modelling of chosen ‘value chains’.
You can find more information here.
Finland was the first country to publish a national roadmap to a circular economy. The first version of the roadmap included six key projects and dozens of pilots, which kick started Finland’s transition to a circular economy. The updated version confirms that selecting initial sectors of focus kick starts a circular economy.
You can find more information here.