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West Midlands’ Circular Economy Routemap


This chapter provides a definition of the circular economy and an overview of its key benefits. It describes the purpose, focus and scope of this routemap. It also presents the West Midlands’s circular economy vision and its over-arching principles.

What is a circular economy?

A circular economy looks beyond the current linear take-make- waste processes to redefine growth (See Figure 1). A circular economy is based on three key principles:

  • Designing out waste and pollution.

  • Keeping products and materials in use at their highest value for as long as possible.

  • Regenerating natural systems.

A circular economy is underpinned by a transition to renewable energy sources and looks to gradually decouple economic activity from the consumption of finite resources.

Principle 1 places particular emphasis on preventing or reducing the necessity to make new products. Instead, it promotes reusing, sharing and repairing existing products as a preferred first option.

As a subset of the circular economy, the sharing economy is an economic system in which resources, products and services are shared between individuals, either for free or for a fee, often enabled through the use of digital platforms.

What are the benefits of a circular economy?

Transitioning to a circular economy is an important driver of inclusive growth. It supports a wider green recovery and delivers socio-economic and environmental benefits to a wide-range of stakeholders. See Table 1 for a selection of circular
economy benefits.

Economic benefits
New secure and long-term jobs will be created through:
  • Increased innovation and entrepreneurship;

  • A new service-based economy; and

  • A need to deliver new circular products.

According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, new jobs will be required in reverse logistics, resource brokers, sales platforms, maintenance and repair as well as parts remanufacturing.

Growth in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) will be achieved through:
  • Increased revenues from emerging circular activities;

  • More productive use of economic inputs;

  • Lower costs of production and material cost savings by reducing the amount of raw materials used; and

  • Increased resilience to future, volatile raw material markets and reduced material scarcity.

Rethinking products and services through the lens of a circular economy drives innovation. A more innovative economy leads to:
  • Higher rates of technological development;

  • Improved materials, labour, energy efficiency and need for new skills; and

  • New business models which extend the life of an asset, improve the productivity of an asset, focus on high resource utilisation and waste reduction.


Social benefits
A circular economy would increase disposable income for many households through:
  • Sharing economy approaches,

  • Reduced costs of products and services;

  • Less unproductive time (time stuck in traffic etc.).

According to the Growth Within report, the average disposable income for households would increase by £2,500 by 2030.

Total ownership costs for customers are reduced by:
  • Overcoming premature obsolescence;

  • Reducing hassles associated with repairs and returns.

By reducing land, water and air pollution, a circular economy improves local communities’ health and wellbeing.

For example, a circular food system would reduce:

  • Healthcare costs associated with the use of pesticides;

  • Antimicrobial resistance;

  • Air pollution, water contamination and foodborne diseases.

Environmental benefits

Research by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, suggests that a circular economy could halve carbon emissions by 2030.

The Foundation’s analysis concluded that the UK could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 7.4 million tonnes every year simply by keeping organic waste out of landfill.

The shift to a circular economy leads to resource conservation:
  • Reduction in primary material extraction, processing and consumption;

  • Reduction in virgin and non- renewable materials used; and

  • Increase in use of recycled inputs.

A circular approach to agriculture contributes to environmental resilience. It will restore soil health and the productivity of the land.

It also reduces food waste and the amount that goes to landfill, resulting in less GHG emissions.

Such an approach has positive impacts on biodiversity and wider ecosystem services such as flood risk management.


Purpose of the routemap

The West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) commissioned Useful Projects and SOENECS to develop a Circular Economy Routemap for the region.

Transitioning to a circular economy is a complex endeavour, involving many different parts of the economy and numerous stakeholders. It requires us to rethink all aspects of the economy at each stage of a resource’s lifecycle and to understand the interplay between different material systems.

This routemap aims to kickstart the circular economy in the West Midlands by focusing initially on three priority areas that can catalyse socio-economic transformation. These priority areas build on the region’s existing strengths and expertise in manufacturing, construction and food production.

This routemap purposefully focuses on practical action and was co-developed with key stakeholders, including a cross-sectorial Circular Economy Task Force. One of this document’s core aims is to clearly communicate to this diverse array of stakeholders their respective role in helping the West Midlands transition to a circular economy.

Focus of the routemap

This routemap is a first, focused step for the region to transition to a circular economy. In developing the routemap, we have:

  • –  Reviewed international best practice including enabling policies and project case studies.

  • –  Undertaken a high-level analysis of the region’s material flows.

  • –  Identified enabling levers to develop a detailed implementation plan.

  • –  Identified three specific sectors and strategic interventions that respond to core regional strengths, specifically manufacturing, construction and food.

    Other sectors, such as tourism, healthcare and life sciences, were also explored and offer circular economy opportunities. These will need to be explored in further detail in the subsequent phases of this routemap.

Scope of the routemap

The circular economy supports resource conservation and waste reduction. There is also a knock-on benefit of reducing carbon emissions. However, the focus of this routemap is on resources and materials, rather than carbon and energy. This is to avoid duplication of work that the WMCA is already conducting as part of its climate change programme.

This routemap is purposefully not an energy, transport, carbon or waste strategy. It goes beyond recycling and advocates for a new approach to resource consumption.

This routemap is central in strengthening the West Midlands’ position as the home of the Green Industrial Revolution. It identifies and builds on the region’s strengths and opportunities, as described in the HoGIR.

This routemap is aligned and actively supports other policy initiatives including WMCA’s Five Year Plan, WM2041, Social Economy Business Plan, Transport Plans and associated policies as well as WMCA’s Zero Carbon Homes and Advanced Manufacturing in Construction Routemaps.

Circular economy vision and principles

In particular, this routemap supports WMCA’s Inclusive Growth Framework and the delivery of several Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

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.

Underpinning this vision are four over-arching principles. These principles are:

  • Enabling Foundations: An enabling environment will be created to support a region-wide transition to the circular economy.

  • Resource Optimisation: Resource productivity and material recovery will be maximised, thereby increasing supply chain resilience and the West Midlands’ global competitiveness.

  • Inclusive, Green Growth: An inclusive, green recovery will be supported in the region, maximising job creation, social value, decarbonisation as well as health and wellbeing.

  • Innovation and Collaboration: Innovative and collaborative processes will be encouraged and supported to unlock new business opportunities for the region.

These principles informed the selection of circular economy enablers as well as the outcomes for each proposed strategic intervention. They should continue to guide WMCA and its partners when choosing next steps and defining key outcomes.