A vision for the West Midlands’ circular economy
The West Midlands’ circular economy will support the green industrial revolution. It will contribute to sustainable, inclusive growth, to the social economy and to a green recovery. The region’s circular economy will make better use of resources, generating more value and creating new jobs.
This vision is underpinned by four principles: inclusive green growth, enabling foundations, innovation and collaboration, and resource optimization.
Why a circular economy?
The circular economy is much more than a sophisticated term for recycling. A circular economy is a different approach to the economy based on regenerative principles and business models that seeks to deliver environment and social value whilst promoting a strong economy.
For the West Midlands, transitioning to a circular economy supports the region in becoming the home of the green and circular industrial revolution. The West Midlands Circular Economy Routemap aims to kickstart the circular economy by building on existing best practice, projects, and expertise. Doing so will:
Contribute inclusive, green growth and innovation, and create new jobs whilst safeguarding existing ones. A 2020 report by the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) found that a circular economy will help the UK build back better, bolstering the economy by £75 billion and creating over half a million jobs.
Support the creation of a social economy and generate social value for local communities. Analysis conducted by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation shows that the average household income would increase by £2,500 a year in a circular economy.
Reduce environmental degradation by reducing material extraction and resource consumption as well as waste generation. For example, transitioning to a circular economy could reduce global greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) by 10 billion tonnes.
Accelerate a green, inclusive, and just recovery from COVID-19, and maximise post-Brexit opportunities that build on the region’s unique characteristics and strengths.
How did we develop the routemap?
To develop this routemap, we:
Produced a baseline analysis. This included:
- High-level mapping of material and waste flows for five sectors. The selection of sectors was guided by the West Midlands Local Industrial Strategy.
- Policy analysis and desk research on best practice and project case studies. It revealed a lack of robust framework and incentives to enable a circular economy at scale in the region. This analysis also demonstrated the need to put in place enabling levers that support an economy-wide transition.
- Interviews and workshops with public, private, and academic stakeholders.
- Identified five economy-wide enabling levers and developed an implementation plan.
- Recommended that, in addition to the enabling levers, the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) and its partners focus their efforts and resources on strategic interventions within three priority areas.
- Selected three priority areas and developed strategic interventions for each area. These interventions build on the region’s economic and industrial strengths, capitalise on existing projects and expertise, and have a unique selling point that will drive the region’s national and international competitiveness.
Enabling levers for a circular economy
Transitioning to a circular economy will be a challenging process that can generate multiple opportunities for the region. To do so, it will require a coordinated set of interventions across a wide range of sectors.
To support this economy-wide shift, five enablers are explored in this routemap:
Policy and regulation:
Embedding circularity in planning and design, improving regulatory and fiscal instruments to support a circular economy, and using procurement to grow new circular markets and supply chains.
Implementing robust internal processes, convening experts and partners, encouraging partnerships and collaboration, developing new supply chains, and supporting a wider adoption of new, innovative circular business models.
Launching a comprehensive behavioural change programme to encourage a shift in societal thinking, supporting upskilling and training, and strengthening existing business support programmes.
Supporting system-wide innovation, improving linkages between research and commercial application, using data platforms and digital infrastructure to accelerate the transition, and ensuring logistics support the movement of goods and materials.
Investing in critical energy, waste, and transport infrastructure, and in shared spaces, resource recovery hubs and storage facilities.
This routemap explores each enabler in further detail, proposing next steps and an implementation plan, identifying delivery partners and best practice.
Priority areas and strategic interventions
To accelerate the transition to a circular economy, the West Midlands must target its strongest sectors, leveraging its expertise and scaling up existing projects. To that effect, three priority areas were informed by a high-level material flow analysis and stakeholder engagement. They were selected based on the following criteria:
- Economic sectors where there are significant material and/or waste flows.
- Alignment with other corporate policies such as job creation, health improvements or environmental protection.
- Opportunity to leverage regional strengths such as existing skills, expertise and/or areas with considerable opportunity for growth.
The three priority areas are:
Industry and manufacturing consumes 3.3 million tonnes of minerals every year. With 16% of resource inputs feeding into transport manufacturing activities, the routemap focused specifically on transport manufacturing.
This capitalises on the region’s position as a major automotive hub and aerospace cluster. The West Midlands has a unique opportunity to drive the growth of a competitive clean tech sector, support the decarbonisation of the transport sector, and optimise the use and re-use of precious materials and metals through manufacturing.
The construction sector is the largest consumer of minerals and the biggest producer of waste in the region. The waste generated by this sector represents a lost opportunity as value can be created from construction outputs. With 220,000 homes and major infrastructure projects planned, the West Midlands must reduce the impact of this sector on the natural environment. Distinctive opportunities exist in unlocking brownfield sites, embedding circular design, capitalising on new material innovations, and leveraging new delivery models, whilst building on the region’s existing initiatives (such as the Zero Carbon Homes Routemap and the Advanced Methods in Construction Roadmap).
As the largest consumer of natural resources in the region, the food and agriculture sector was chosen because the West Midlands is a major food and drink manufacturing hub, home to giants such as Mondelez as well as a plethora of diverse community groups working on food issues. This unique landscape means the West Midlands can engage the entire food supply chain to re-design its food system. A system-wide shift in this sector would deliver socio-economic benefits, reduce environmental degradation, and contribute to the social economy.
This routemap explores 4 to 5 strategic interventions for each of the three priority areas described above. It provides detailed next steps, delivery partners and metrics for each intervention identified. The table on the right summarises each strategic intervention proposed in the routemap. To accelerate the transition to a circular economy, a mixture of large scale and smaller scale interventions were selected.
A circular economy is a vital part of WMCA’s overall approach
to building a greener, healthier, and more inclusive region. Transitioning to a circular economy can build resilience, create new jobs, reduce environmental degradation, and support the growth of the social economy. To deliver the full potential offered by a circular economy, it will be essential for WMCA and its partners to develop shared ambitions and work closely together.
This routemap is only the first step for the region’s journey towards a circular economy. Next steps proposed in the routemap include:
Implement key actions across the enablers identified, including updating WMCA’s Single Commissioning Framework and procurement rules, embedding the circular economy
in the wider Net Zero Behaviour Change Campaign and the Commonwealth Games 2022 legacy work, as well as commissioning any further research and intelligence that may be required to inform future actions.
Develop a business case for a West Midlands Industrial Symbiosis delivery programme with a focus on unlocking opportunities within and between the three priority areas identified in the routemap. The Tyseley Energy Park and the East Birmingham Corridor have been identified as hot spots for cross-sector circular activities.
Develop a business case for a Zero Waste Construction Hub to support material recovery and exchange and to share and incentivise best practice in circular design and construction.
Work with partners to convene a Circular Battery Partnership to create a world-leading ecosystem of circular battery manufacturing and to develop funding proposals.
- Explore innovation opportunities to transform waste into high-value fuels for hard-to-decarbonise sectors (such as aerospace).
- Accelerate a circular construction repurposing programme to implement circular approaches for refurbishing and repurposing commercial and residential properties as well as public buildings and spaces.
- Develop a network of circular community hubs based around sharing goods, food, and skills, supporting the wider Social Economy Growth Strategy and existing projects looking to re- design our food system.
- The route ahead will not be simple but transitioning to a circular economy offers huge potential for the region including becoming the home of the green industrial revolution.