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West Midlands’ Circular Economy Routemap

Focused Strategic Interventions

The West Midlands is a major automotive hub, with 40% of all cars exported from the UK made in the West Midlands. It is also the largest aerospace cluster in the UK, with 25% of the country’s aerospace sector located in the region. Embedding circularity within the manufacturing sector will ensure these sectors continue to thrive, are resilient to future increases in material costs, and jobs are safeguarded.

The majority of employment within the West Midlands’ manufacturing sector is in intermediate product supply chains to the end producers, rather than in processing of primary resources or in assembly of end products. This presents opportunities and challenges that will need to be explored further when developing specific interventions.

The manufacturing sector is a priority area for the West Midlands given the national government’s support for growing the clean tech sector, particularly to support the decarbonisation of the transport sector.

The clean tech sector poses a resource challenge. This sector, which includes electric vehicle, batteries, rapid charging infrastructure, wind turbines and other smart devices, relies heavily on the supply of imported scarce materials (such as rare earth, cobalt, manganese, graphite, indium, neodymium and lithium) as well as highly refined metals (such as aluminium, composites, silver, nickel and copper).

The demand for these materials is predicted to grow by 2050, as high as 1000% for Lithium according to the World Bank. Given the rapid increase in demand and potential scarcity of these raw materials, there is a need to increase efficiency in the use of these materials and to ensure that they can be recovered and recycled at the end of their life.

To that effect, circular economy interventions that would bring the most value to the region within the manufacturing sector include:

  • Adopting a circular economy approach to electric vehicle, battery, and EV charging including high-value material recycling.

  • Adopting circular economy approaches to metal recycling and to produce low carbon fuels from waste.

  • Providing specialist circular design and development services for the manufacturing sector combined with the development of advanced material recovery technologies and facilities, including investment in robotics, robot/human interfaces and the use of artificial intelligence (AI) in resource recovery.

See Appendix 7 for more detailed information on the strategic interventions chosen for this priority area.


Key findings

3.3 million tonnes of minerals consumed by the industry and manufacturing sector
every year.

Iron, steel and ferro-alloys account for 65% of mineral consumption each year. Their consumption is the most carbon intensive.

up to 45% reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions with more circular processes.

86% of natural resource consumption is a product of forestry and logging every year.

217 million m3 of water consumed by Industry and manufacturing sector each year.

76 million m3 of wastewater produced by the sector per year.

More accurate data required on wastewater sludge to maximise opportunities for recovery and reuse.

400,000 tonnes of waste still go to landfill each year.

16% of resource inputs used for transport manufacturing activities every year.

Supporting electrification of transport presents huge opportunities, especially with battery manufacturing.

Infrastructure needed to reprocess metals, rare earth and other precious materials.

Reprocessing of metals will see 15% worldwide job growth by 2030.

Opportunity to build supply chains’ resilience against future volatility in material prices and availability.

Industrial symbiosis and co-location of industries within clusters are key.

Through its lifetime, NISP West Midlands has helped divert 4,250,385t of waste from landfill. It has eliminated 83,970t hazardous waste, saved 10,040,326t virgin materials and 13,339,274m3 of water, as well as 5,086,770 tCO2e.

Repowering the Black Country proposes
to create strategically-selected circular economy zero carbon industrial hubs. A first feasibility study for an initial hub based on aluminium re-processing at Phoenix 10 in Walsall has been completed and the hubs are currently being planned.

Tyseley Energy Park in Birmingham will be the base for the UK’s first recycling plant for high-performance rare earth magnets. The plant will be based on the patented Hydrogen Processing of Magnet Scrap process.

Strategic interventions
Circular Battery Manufacturing

What? Design the first truly circular battery factory, distinguishing the West Midlands Gigafactory from other similar projects worldwide.

Why? To meet the growing demand for electric vehicles and batteries, to ensure that scarce materials are recovered, to secure jobs in the automobile manufacturing sector.

Role of WMCA? Enable.
Partners: See Appendix 7 for complete partners list.

Next Steps:
  • Convene all partners to establish formal partnership and develop project and research proposals.

  • Build political support and an investment prospectus.

  • Develop and submit funding proposals to support a wide range of applied development projects.


Circular Manufacture Centre of Excellence

What? Establish a Circular Manufacturing Centre of Excellence to support circular design best practice and to develop advanced technologies (robotics, AI etc.).

Why? To test new technologies and processes for end of life resource recovery and circular manufacturing and to increase knowledge about circular manufacturing.

Role of WMCA? Enable.

Partners: See Appendix 7 for complete partners list.

Next Steps:

Engage and convene identified partners to gauge support, to identify existing or potential locations for a centre of excellence and to share best practice.

Develop and submit a major sectoral funding application for a centre of excellence and associated research/developmental projects.

Support research into best practice for circular design in manufacturing and into advanced technologies.


Industrial Symbiosis Delivery Programme

What? Implement a place-based industrial symbiosis delivery programme to cross-fertilise opportunities across the three priority areas.

Why? To reduce resource consumption, to support SMEs in adopting circular processes, to create/save jobs, to minimise environmental degradation.

Role of WMCA? Enable and potential delivery partner. Partners: See Appendix 7 for complete partners list.

Next steps:
  • Select location for a demonstrator project, focusing initially on high-value metal recycling (such as aluminium) and water.

  • Develop a funding proposal for the selected industrial symbiosis demonstrator project.

  • Convene key partners to develop a region-wide industrial symbiosis programme, aligning it with existing business support.


High-Value Fuels from Waste

What? Use advanced processing technologies to turn residual, municipal and industrial waste into high- value fuels for aviation, logistics, heavy plant and other manufacturing sectors.

Why? To increase the volume and value of resources generated from waste, to develop new technologies that can be exported globally.

Role of WMCA? Enable.

Partners: See Appendix 7 for complete partners list.

Next steps
  • Engage relevant sectors to test appetite, secure support and establish formal partnerships.

  • Identify one initial focus area (sustainable aviation fuel, sewage waste, etc.) and develop detailed plan and proposal for early funding.


With over 220,000 new homes and major infrastructure projects like HS2 planned, embedding circularity within construction can unlock new opportunities, generate cost savings and build resilience across regional supply chains. Circular design and processes can also decrease the amount of virgin materials consumed and reduce environmental degradation associated with construction.

The West Midlands can leverage the funds it has secured to transform the construction, demolition and excavation (CD&E) sector. For example, WMCA and its constituent members have received several investment packages to support investments in infrastructure across the region. It has a £100 million Land Fund and £24 million Competitive Fund. WMCA and its constituent members have also received a £84 million investment to unlock and accelerate the region’s pipeline of brownfield sites.

To that effect, circular economy interventions that would bring the most value to the region within the CD&E sector include:

  • Adopting circular design principles and construction processes for residential, commercial and major infrastructure

  • A particular opportunity is to create a physical and virtual resource recovery and material exchange hub to make better use of material wasted in construction.

  • Unlocking the value of brownfield sites with the creation of a leading facility to provide a register of sites, and incentives for developing these sites. This can be spearheaded by Wolverhampton and their National Brownfield Institute.

  • Supporting the growth of regional specialist circular products and services relating to the construction industry, creating a one-stop shop to deliver all required services. Working and mobilising supply chains.

  • See Appendix 8 for more detailed information on the strategic interventions chosen for this priority area.

Key findings

The CD&E sector is the largest consumer of resources and producer of waste in the region.

CD&E sector mineral consumption per year:

  • WMCA - 88%
  • UK - 82%

18 million tonnes of minerals are consumed by the sector every year.

CD&E sector is the largest consumer
of stone, using 1.2 million tonnes of stone every year.

CD&E sector mineral consumption breakdown per annum:

  • Stone - 68%
  • Sand & clay - 25%
  • Other - 7%

580,000 tonnes of natural resources are consumed by the sector every year.

CD&E’s natural resource consumption breakdown per annum:

  • Wood, cork, straw and plaiting - 66%
  • Forestry and logging - 25%
  • Other 9%



tonnes of forestry and logging resources are used in CD&E each year.

3.5 million tonnes of construction waste is re-processed, re-used or recycled every year. Further analysis on the value of these flows is required.

4.5 million tonnes of construction waste goes to landfill every year.

Construction waste generated each year could be worth up to £5 billion.

Construction sector needs to embrace design for adaptability, longevity, flexibility and disassembly.

Applying circular design can reduce embodied carbon by 50% at no additional costs.

Sourcing of materials also needs to be considered.

Lightweight structures reduce amount of materials used.

Opportunity also identified around brownfield land reclamation.

The Port Loop development in Birmingham has adopted a suite of sustainability principles for its 1,000 new homes. Of interest is its ‘pick n mix’ approach which ensures homes have been designed and built to be flexible and adapt to residents’ changing needs.

Biohm develops bio-materials, circular construction systems and innovative business models. They are a leading pioneer in the research and development of bio-based materials including of bio- manufacturing materials for construction made from waste.

A National Brownfield Institute (NBI)
is being built on the University of Wolverhampton’s Springfield Campus. The NBI will focus on the practical application of future brownfield regeneration through the work of research teams, leading policy development and commercial services.

Strategic interventions
Brownfield Land Reclamation

What? Set up a facility and associated advisory services to unlock the development potential of brownfield sites of all sizes.

Why? To reduce resource consumption, wasted materials on brownfield sites, and the amount of soils and virgin materials imported.

Role of WMCA? Enable and Influence. Lead on own sites. Partners: See Appendix 8 for complete partners list.

Next Steps
  • Explore option for the National Brownfield Institute to become leading facility.

  • Convene partners to develop incentives including for smaller sites.

  • Create a register of brownfield sites and develop a data-sharing platform.


Circular Repurposing Programme

What? Develop and implement circular approaches for refurbishing and repurposing commercial and residential properties, as well as public buildings and spaces.

Why? To minimise construction waste, to reduce virgin material extraction and to revitalise unused space.

Role of WMCA? Enable and Influence. Lead on own sites. Partners: See Appendix 8 for complete partners list.

Next steps
  •  Audit public spaces, high streets and unused/ vacant commercial spaces to create a region- wide revitalisation investment prospectus.

  • Support R&D in circular products, services and approaches that support repurposing and refurbishing.

  • Publish guidance on alternative financing and delivery models.


Zero Waste Construction Hub

What? Launch a physical and virtual hub to recover and exchange materials, as well as share and incentivise circular design and processes.

Why? To use fewer materials and reduce waste on construction sites, to encourage material exchange within the built environment.

Role of WMCA? Enable and Influence. Potential delivery partner.

Partners: See Appendix 8 for complete partners list.

Next steps
  • Determine best location for material recovery and exchange hub(s), developing feasibility and funding proposal.

  • Mobilise and convene regional supply chains around circular construction methods (including MMC and AMC).

  • Launch virtual hub and share best practice guidance and incentives for circular construction processes.


Circular strategies for infrastructure

What? Develop circular strategies and action plans for major infrastructure projects and utility providers.

Why? To mobilise and scale up circular supply chains, to encourage innovation, and to support circular, sustainable utility provision.

Role of WMCA? Enable and Influence. Lead on own sites. Partners: See Appendix 8 for complete partners list.

Next steps
  • Identify and convene major infrastructure and utility companies and their supply chains to develop projects and incentives.
  • Create a forum for infrastructure and utility companies to share best practice.
  • Publish best practice guidance for circular strategies for infrastructure and utility companies.


Circular Building Product Initiative

What? Support the development of leading, regional circular buildings’ systems, products and service offers.

Why? To create a suite of regional circular building products, to increase the number of circular products and services, to support regional job creation.

Role of WMCA? Enable and Influence. Lead on own sites. Partners: See Appendix 8 for complete partners list.

Next steps

Work with the Zero Carbon Homes Task Force and other key partners to select ten regional building product manufacturers/suppliers.

Convene partners and experts to explore creation of a consortium of regional organisations to act as a one-stop shop for circular buildings’ products, services and systems.


Circular food

Thanks to its surrounding rural areas, the West Midlands region as a whole remains one of the UK’s main agricultural hubs, making the food and agricultural sector a key priority for this routemap. According to DEFRA, the biggest agricultural contributors to the region’s £2.4 billion outputs are milk, poultry meat, wheat and fruit. The West Midlands is also home to several farms, with income from farming increasing by 34% between 2015 and 2019. Grazing livestock accounted for 28% of farmed area, whereas cereal farms accounted for an additional 26%.

The food and agricultural sector was chosen as a priority area given the presence of large food processors and manufacturers, local agro- ecological farms and movements, as well as numerous community-based groups focusing on food. Numerous research projects, including Food Trails, are looking to make the region’s food system more circular and to eliminate food waste across the supply chain. This routemap will support such research projects.

To that effect, circular economy interventions that would bring the most value to the region within the food and agriculture sector include:

  • Adopting a systems-thinking approach to redesign the food system working with leading research institutions, regional agro-businesses and farms to deliver tangible social benefits and economic growth.

  • Encourage more sustainable food consumption in the region, including improving distribution and access to food and supporting existing grassroot movements to continue their work as part of a recovery. Additionally, urban agriculture and urban horticulture opportunities should be further explored, building on existing initiatives and community groups such as District Eating.

  • Unlocking the value of food and drink manufacturing waste and the potential of wastewater sludge for agricultural purposes. This will help close the nutrient loops, deliver new jobs and reduce environmental degradation.

  • See Appendix 9 for more detailed information on the strategic interventions chosen for this priority area.

Key findings

80% of the region’s natural resources consumed by the food and agriculture sector each year.

Breakdown of this sector’s natural resource consumption per annum:

  • Manure - 37%
  • Wheat - 15%
  • Oil seeds - 10%
  • Vegetable Oil and fats - 8%
  • Other - 30%

455,000 tonnes of minerals consumed every year.

14 million m3 of water used every year.

61% of food waste does not go to landfill.

Further in-depth analysis of these waste flows required.

Amount of edible food wasted worth £700 per household.

Better segregation of food waste in homes and processing plants is needed.

Region benefits from strong presence of volunteer groups focusing on food access and equity.

System thinking required to develop a circular farm-to-fork food system.

Agro-ecology and sustainable food growing methods are required.

Logistics are key to improve access to food and reduce food miles.

Behavioural change required to shift to a more circular food system.

Circular food system brings health benefits.

Additional benefits include improved soil health and reduction in water, land and air pollution.

Incredible Surplus collects food and other usable materials that would otherwise go to waste from supermarkets, restaurants and other sources to provide them to individuals on a ‘Pay as you feel’ basis. Since its inception, Incredible Surplus has redistributed over 1,800t of otherwise wasted food and has seen dozens of volunteers move to paid employment.

SIMBIO is a joint project between Canada, Brazil, Poland and the UK. In the UK, the project is led by Coventry University. SIMBIO aims to address the socio-environmental challenges of bio- plastic packaging throughout the entire supply chain from production to end of life management.

Agricultural recovery of wastewater treatment plant sludge plays a critical role in maintaining water, air and soil health. Severn Trent water is currently exploring option to use the sludge as a nitrogen-rich fertiliser. In France, Suez has rolled out sludge recovery programmes which avoid production of 6,000t of synthetic nitrogen in addition to 8,000t of phosphorus mineral extraction.

Strategic interventions
Circular Nutrient Loop

What? Close the nutrient loop by developing bio-technologies to recover and enhance value of food waste and other waste products (sewage etc.).

Why? To reduce use of finite resources, to retain important nutrients in the soil, to reduce negative environmental impacts.

Role of WMCA? Enable.

Next Steps
  • Engage with wastewater and sewage companies to identify technologies to recover nutrients from sludge for agricultural use and create an online platform to facilitate exchange with farmers.

  • Support local authorities in streamlining food waste collection, including producing best practice guidance for food separation.

  • Determine logistics required to transport food waste to anaerobic digestion and composting plants and then distribute compost to farms and inject biogas in local gas network.


Healthy Consumption

What? Raise awareness and encourage sustainable, local food consumption, working closely with existing communities and volunteer groups.

Why? To improve health of local communities, to reduce costs associated with unhealthy diets, and to reduce environmental impact of modern diets.

Role of WMCA? Enable and Influence.

Partners: See Appendix 9 for complete partners list.

Next steps
  •  Convene local authorities to launch a cohesive behavioural change programme for healthier diets.

  • Lobby national government for stronger regulations on fast food advertisements (near schools etc.).

  • Provide support to existing community/volunteer groups including access to finance and space.


Circular Food hubs

What? Create circular food hubs with optimised logistics to collect and redistribute food that would otherwise be wasted.

Why? To improve local communities’ access to healthy, affordable food, to reduce waste food, and to ensure better redistribution of food.

Role of WMCA? Enable and potential delivery partner.

Partners: See Appendix 9 for complete partners list.

Next steps

Determine logistics requirements to bring in and redistribute food that would otherwise be wasted.

Based on logistics requirements, determine best location for central food hubs, making best use of vacant/unused spaces or publicly-owned buildings.

Convene existing community/volunteer groups and other key partners to develop funding proposal for hubs.


Regenerative food production

What? Support regenerative agriculture and permaculture practices as well as local food growing initiatives.

Why? To maintain soil health, to reduce food miles, to increase food security.

Role of WMCA? Enable and Influence.
Partners: See Appendix 9 for complete partners list.

Next steps
  • Map existing sustainable, local food growing schemes and farms to identify best practice and gaps in provision.

  • –  Convene key partners to develop incentives, support programmes and communal projects.

  • –  Support local authority constituent members in implementing enabling policies, particularly in planning.


Circular Food Manufacturing

What? Develop circular strategies for food and drink processors and manufacturers, focusing on opportunity to use food waste as a productive resource.

Why? To mobilise circular food supply chains, to reduce resource consumption and pollution, to support further R&D in sustainable agro-business processes.

Role of WMCA? Enable and Influence.

Partners: See Appendix 9 for complete partners list.

Next steps

Develop proposal for bio-packaging and no single-use plastic at the Commonwealth Games.

Convene agro-businesses, food processors and other key partners to map flows of resources and identify opportunities to trade resources.

Commission audit of existing food technologies to identify where further support into R&D and commercial application required, including bio-packaging.