Policy research identifies enablers for circular economy

24 January 2024

Resource Futures was commissioned by Defra to investigate opportunities arising from potential amendments to retained EU law that could support environmental objectives, unlock economic growth, and help deliver the Resources and Waste Strategy and 25-Year Environment Plan.

Working with subcontractors Dsposal and Winning Moves, Resource Futures undertook desk-based research, stakeholder interviews, and a cross-industry workshop to identify opportunities across six EU directives and research two in a more detailed investigation.

Following a high-level review – and an understanding of the scale and impact of the opportunities – the topics ‘definition of waste’ and ‘end-of-waste criteria’ (EoW) in relation to the Waste Framework Directive were selected.

“Both topics are fundamental to the waste industry and environmental objectives. The conditions under which something is classified as waste, and is subject to tight legislative and licensing control, are fundamental to our economy and the protection of our natural resources.

“Similarly important are the conditions under which something is no longer considered waste, and thus released from stringent environmental waste legislation. If too restrictive, we inhibit sustainable resource use and our transition to a circular economy. If not restrictive enough, we risk harm to the environment and human health.”

George Cole, Director at Resource Futures

The project delivered an important review of the two topics in consideration of the UK’s ambitions of achieving a circular economy and net zero.

Engagement with industry representatives and environmental regulators identified areas where industry and Government can work more closely together to support environmental protection whilst unlocking greater circular economy practice. The opportunities appeared in improving clarity and understanding of the regulatory processes, as well as how the how the definitions of waste and EoW criteria are interpreted.

“It’s exciting to explore how we might fundamentally rethink waste to unlock a sizeable shift in reuse and recycling. Such a task requires careful exploration to ensure environmental quality is protected, and this study is only the start of that conversation. The research also identified quick wins to help industry and regulators achieve more within the existing system.”

George Cole, Director at Resource Futures

Download the report