How Yorkshire can become the Silicon Valley for the circular economy

This November, the York, North Yorkshire and East Riding Local Enterprise Partnership are enabling the first ever Circular Yorkshire campaign.

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation supports the development of the circular economy. Picture: PA

The campaign aims to raise awareness of circular economy and its benefits, triggering a transformation in of economic growth across the region.

Circular economy, an economic system aimed at eliminating waste and encouraging the continual use of resources, has been posited as the solution for carbon neutralisation, a win-win, enabling business and economic growth while tackling climate change.

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We have woken up to climate emergency in the UK, setting a target to reduce our carbon emissions to net zero by 2050. Many local areas across our region have accelerated those targets to be achieved by 2030. We know that businesses are keen to reduce environmental impact and they play a crucial role in achieving such targets. Yet, in reality for any business to put their full weight behind a concept such as circular economy, there has to be a robust economic path that with action will build competitiveness.

It helps that the numbers speak for themselves. The 2017 Ellen MacArthur Foundation report Achieving Growth Within argued that circular economy represents €320bn investment opportunity for Europe until 2050. DEFRA calculates that UK businesses alone could benefit by up to £23bn per year through low cost or no cost improvements in the efficient use of resources.

These are compelling figures, but what does it all mean for us here in Yorkshire? How do we make this opportunity real for us? In truth, we have a hugely tangible distinction that gives us significant opportunity to find growth through circular economy. Food is big business on our patch. In fact, food manufacturing makes up about 20 per cent of our GVA and is reliant on our rural landscape which, in turn, informs our culture and contributes significantly to our booming tourism economy.

With this great asset comes great responsibility, as globally about one third of food production is never eaten. Circular economy offers a systems change – a shift to seeing food waste as a valued resource. We also enjoy significant innovation assets in the city of York, with Biovale, Fera and University of York to name just a few, all developing expertise in resourcing value from food and agri-wastes. There’s every opportunity for Yorkshire to become a circular trailblazer. A silicon valley for the circular economy.

Product developers, Chip[s] Board®, have come through the London Waste & Recycling Board Circular Construction accelerator. Rowan Minkley, co-founder and CEO, describes his business as, “founded on Circular Economy principles and sustainability.

“In a nutshell, we identify abundant waste streams to make high value bio-plastics.

So for example, we work with McCain, taking their potato waste and using it as a resource for material production. “Though currently based in London, we’re planning a pilot facility, and then full scale manufacturing, in North Yorkshire. The majority of the UKs industrial food processing, and therefore food and agri-waste, is located in the region. There’s a significant supply chain and growth opportunity that we want to take advantage of.”

Every business can make small, medium and larger changes that when combined add up to something hugely significant.

For the Enterprise Partnership, the transformation to a carbon neutral, circular economy is a central priority for the Local Industrial Strategy that they’re currently drafting in collaboration with the region and will submit to Government in December. They will be launching their Circular Economy strategy and action plan on November 7, which includes an investment focus, determining how the region can draw in £6bn through collaborative, investible circular projects.

A true circular economy is a broad church, with social benefits to be enjoyed as well as economic.

In the UK we already have circular cities, but embracing our urban and rural advantage, bring on the UK’s first circular region, Circular Yorkshire!

By Sue Jefferson, the deputy chair of York, North & East Riding LEP business board