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Every European consumes on average, 14 tonnes of raw materials per year and produces, every year, around 5 tonnes of waste. 

New national circular economy coordinators announced

Key leadership roles for the new interdisciplinary Circular Economy Programme have been announced today. The Programme will bring together academic, business and policy audiences to support the transformation of how the UK uses resources.

The initiative is a £30M investment from UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) through the Strategic Priorities Fund and is one of the largest UK public investments in developing a Circular Economy. It will build an interdisciplinary community that will produce the latest research and scientific evidence, bringing together researchers with stakeholders across business, policy and the third sector to help inform the UK’s transition to a Circular Economy.

Every European consumes on average, 14 tonnes of raw materials per year and produces, every year, around 5 tonnes of waste. This waste, in products and materials, could be reused, repaired or recycled to extend their lifecycle, reduce the use of raw materials and the amount of waste we put into our environment. This is the underlying principle of the circular economy. It has spectacular potential to drive sustainable growth and prosperity but represents a fundamental challenge to current ways of business and consumption of resources.

Professors Peter Hopkinson and Fiona Charnley from the Exeter Centre for the Circular Economy at the University of Exeter Business School have been appointed as the Interdisciplinary Circular Economy Coordinators by UKRI as part of the programme and tasked with developing the hub proposal.

Professor Charnley comments: “The initiative is a critical step in changing radically how we as a country, from organisations to individuals use resources. Carrying on as we are is simply not an option, and by harnessing the collective power of academia, business and government, we can enable that transformation.”

Professor Hopkinson adds: “As an example, just to convert the UK car fleet to lithium batteries would require 75% of current world production. That is not possible. We can’t simply shift one resource problem to another. We need a complete system redesign of how resources are used.”

The hub will be developed over the next four years and will spearhead the coordination of the up to five interdisciplinary research centres, which are being funded separately as part of the overall UKRI programme, and create an umbrella brand to help business, academic and policy audiences to collaborate and develop solutions and new ways of working. The hub will also develop whole-systems understanding and cross-cutting research to support the transformation to a circular economy. A series of nationwide events are planned later this year to launch the initiative.

Rachel Bishop, Head of Circular Economy at the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), part of UK Research and Innovation concludes: “The UK has potential to grow and prosper sustainably by transitioning to a more circular economy. This programme will build a vibrant interdisciplinary community within which researchers and non-academic stakeholders will co-produce the innovative solutions needed to enable change in specific resource flows, advance fundamental whole system understanding and support evidence based decision making within government and business. The appointment of Professors Peter Hopkinson and Fiona Charnley as the Interdisciplinary Coordinators is the exciting first step in this process and we look forward to working closely with them.”

This UKRI programme is a £30 million collaboration, delivered by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), and Innovate UK, with the government’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). 

Date: 24 February 2020