COP 26 and Circular Economy, what are we talking about?

03.11.2021 4 min read

COP26 has highlighted how important circular economy is. During the first day of COP26, the UK has launched the “Clean Green Initiative”. This initiative is ultimately about turning attention to securing long-term green growth on a global scale, creating a circular economy.

A circular economy is an economic system that aims to keep materials and resources in use at their highest value for as long as possible before being reused or recycled into another useful item. The guiding principle of a circular economy is circularity with the main goal of avoiding waste and keeping a resource in a usable format for as long as possible. Whereas traditionally a resource would be used to produce an item and the item would be discarded at the end of its lifespan, circularity is the idea that at the end of its lifespan, an item can be reconstituted into something else altogether or used for a different purpose. This is also known as a “closed-loop system” as resources do not become waste, they stay in the loop of being a usable commodity.

In recent years, certain societies across Europe have moved towards a circular economy approach due to the publication of the European Green Deal (2019)  which aims to cut the EU’s net greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% by 2030, compared to 1990 levels, with the ultimate aim of no net greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Circularity is a guiding principle in these aims which will help reduce unnecessary emissions from many sectors and improve sustainability across the continent. The importance of circularity to these aims is reflected in the creation of the Circular Economy Action Plan which was approved in March 2020 and forms a part of the Green Deal. One of the countries at the forefront of adopting a circular approach is the Netherlands which has ambitions to become a country with a 100% circular and waste-free economy by 2050 and reduce the use of primary raw materials by 50% by 2030. One of the sectors focused on as the Netherlands work towards a zero-waste circular economy is the construction sector, which accounts for half of the countries primary resource use. Whilst this fact is specific to the Netherlands, it is a similar scenario in most developed countries around the world.

In the UK, whilst there is currently not a national policy relating to circularity, the new London Plan (2021)  does have a policy that states that developers need to incorporate these ideas into new development plans. In 2015, 18 million tonnes (mt) of waste was produced in London with 54%, 9.7mt, coming from construction, demolition, and excavation activities. ‘Policy SI 7 Reducing waste and supporting the circular economy of the new London Plan includes aims which developers are expected to meet regarding circularity, including ensuring there is zero biodegradable or recyclable waste to landfill by 2026 and that 95% of construction, demolition, and excavation waste is recycled/recovered or used beneficially. Waste should be designed out from the earliest possible stage through to completion. To reduce waste, new developments should be designed for longevity whereby the lifespan is considered, and the development is intended to be usable for as long as possible. At the end of its lifespan, the development should still be a valuable commodity to be able to be utilised for other purposes, to further reduce primary resources and materials being used in new developments. Furthermore, materials are used that can easily be recycled and reused and the development should be designed and built in a way that it can easily be repurposed or disassembled.

How a developer and the associated development implement circularity into their proposals will be explained in a Circular Economy Statement (CES). The CES will demonstrate how these measures are incorporated in all aspects, from project inception, design, construction, and operation of the proposed development. The key aims of the statement are to consider how strategies associated with the development will support circularity, recognise opportunities associated with the development that will save primary resources, materials, and money, and report against targets that enable monitoring of recycling and waste. Following the London Plan Policy SI 7, new developments in London are now required to provide a CES in a bid to outline the approach taken to adopt a circular economy approach. Whilst there are common approaches to achieving this, innovative methods are actively encouraged as the efficiency and effectiveness of a method will rely heavily on variable factors such as the location, the size, the surrounding land uses, and the proposed use of the site.

Temple has a proven track record putting together CES for developments. We continue to work with multidisciplinary teams to achieve sustainable outcomes for all.

Key Contacts

Dr Xiangyu Sheng Director - Air Quality, Climate & Carbon