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Landmark circular economy programme to start UK ‘resources revolution’

A ‘resources revolution’ for the UK will get underway next week with the launch of the UK’s largest circular economy research programme to date.

Published 20th May 2021

The NICER programme (National Interdisciplinary Circular Economy Research) is a £30 million UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) investment comprising 34 universities and 200 industry partners and is the most comprehensive attempt yet to create a future UK circular economy – one that uses fewer resources, creates more jobs and reuses more waste materials.

Circular economists believe limiting rising global temperatures to 1.5 degree requires moving away not only from fossil fuels but also from the way we produce and consume materials in the economy.

The UK economy uses around 14 tonnes of materials per person every year – the equivalent weight of 12 small family cars – according to ONS data, and analysis from Stockholm Environment Institute found it would require three planets’ worth of resources to support this level of consumption for everyone in the world.

The NICER programme will consist of five national centres – each with their own specialist area ranging from technology metals to textiles – and a co-ordinating Circular Economy Hub based at the University of Exeter Business School.

The programme launch on 27 May will feature expert panel sessions and workshops and will be opened by Dame Ellen MacArthur – with all guests welcomed on behalf of the university by Professor David Allen, Dean of the Business School.

The all-day event will delve into the priority areas for the CE Hub and wider programme, such as how to influence UK policy, how best to engage citizens in circular economy innovation, the role of SMEs in the circular economy and the development of a UK-wide circular economy roadmap.

The all-day event will delve into the priority areas for the CE Hub and wider programme, such as how to influence UK policy, how best to engage citizens in circular economy innovation, the role of SMEs in the circular economy and the development of a UK-wide circular economy roadmap.

And the question of what a future circular economy would actually look like will be addressed by a panel of experts, including Gideon Henderson, Chief Scientific Adviser at DEFRA.

The schedule for the rest of the week (Monday 24th – Thursday 27th May), will be given over to launching five national circular economy centres, each with its own specialist area ranging from technology metals to textiles.

Day one (24 May) will see researchers from the Textiles Circularity Centre at the Royal College of Art introduce their plans to turn old waste textiles, crop residues and household waste into renewable materials for use in new textiles, transforming supply chains while stimulating economic growth and creating independence from cheap imported materials.

Their session will followed in the afternoon with the launch of UCL’s Interdisciplinary Circular Economy Centre for Mineral-based Construction Materials (ICEC-MCM), which will focus on finding solutions to reduce the waste, pollution and environmental impact of the construction industry.

Day two will begin with the launch of the Interdisciplinary Centre for Circular Chemical Economy, based at Loughborough University, which will set out its vision to “transform the UK chemical industry’s linear supply chain model into a fossil fuel-independent, climate-positive and environmentally friendly circular economy”.

The session will be followed by the launch of Exeter’s Interdisciplinary Circular Economy Centre for Technology Metals (Met4Tech), led by experts based at the Camborne School of Mines in Cornwall, which aims to revolutionise how crucial technology metals such as cobalt, rare earths and lithium are extracted, used and reused in clean and digital technologies across the UK.

Then on day three, the Interdisciplinary Centre for Circular Metals, led by Brunel University, will set out its ambitions to create a circular economy for the UK metals industry with a session that includes talks by Professor Dame Julia King, Chair of the Carbon Trust and Professor Paul Monks, Chief Scientific Advisor to the Department for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

The week-long event will culminate on 27 May with the official NICER programme launch with the opening keynote speech from Dame Ellen MacArthur, a champion of circular economy principles and founder of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.

The work of the programme will be overseen and coordinated by a CE-Hub led by Co-Directors Professor Peter Hopkinson and Professor Fiona Charnley.

The programme will prove how “radical action” to shift the nature of the UK economy can be taken “at speed and scale”.

Professor Hopkinson said: “The UK economy consumes over 1 billion tonnes of materials every year, or around 17 tonnes per person, contributing to carbon emissions, a huge amount of unnecessary waste and environmental damage. This is set to continue to grow unless we take radical action to shift the current linear economy towards a circular economy. This programme will show how this can be done at speed and scale.”

Professor Fiona Charnley added: “It is incredibly exciting to see the UK Research and Innovation community coming together to collaborate on Circular Economy with industry, policy makers, local and regional government and wider society to create new economic and business opportunity, reduce the use of resources and environmental impact and create jobs for the UK.”

"We are proud that our new national Circular Economy Hub will be leading this national programme, and will be co-ordinating efforts with industry and academic partners to create a new regenerative economy that empowers us to meet the challenge of global warming, stop biodiversity loss, and achieve Net Zero."

Professor David Allen - PVC and Executive Dean - University of Exeter Business School

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