Manufacturers must close resource loop by 2050

19th November 2013

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Climate change, increased competition for materials and tighter environmental regulation mean UK manufacturers must shift to a circular-economy approach, says government report

In a new report looking forward to what the UK’s manufacturing sector will look like in 2050, the government’s office for science concludes that environmental sustainability will have a profound effect on manufacturing production processes.

To remain competitive, firms will have to use fewer resources, design products specifically for reuse and ensure that materials are constantly recovered and recycled.

With global temperatures predicted to rise by between 0.7°C and 2.4°C, and the world’s population predicted to reach more than 9.6 billion, competition for materials, energy, water and land will require manufacturers to revise their business models, states the report.

It says that firms will face increasing pressure from legislators and consumers to reduce their greenhouse-gas emissions and lower the environmental footprint of their products, while natural resources, including ecosystems services, are likely to be given a financial value, forcing businesses to better account for their environmental impacts.

The government’s science office predicts three phases in the transition to closed-loop manufacturing in the UK, with companies making the shift to more energy, water and material efficient processes in the first phase, which is expected to run up until 2025.

This second phase, from 2025 to 2050, will see firms make significant changes to their business models and design more robust products with shared ownership and reuse in mind. A third phase, post-2050, will see a manufacturing sector where no materials are landfilled, but are instead kept within a closed-production loop.

“This report sets out a vision of manufacturing that is very different from what we recognise today,” commented business secretary Vince Cable. “Clearly both industry and government need to prepare for what will be considerable opportunities and challenges ahead.

“Manufacturing is no longer just about production, it is a much wider set of activities that create value for the UK.”

The report acknowledges that the government must help firms to make the transition to a circular economy, by better incentivising resource efficiency, through legislation and ambitious product standards, and through supporting research and development – finance for which in the UK currently lags behind that of other countries.

The government research follows a recent report by Wrap which calculated that shifting to a circular economy could save European businesses £330 billion by 2020.

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