• Wales and Ireland Move Towards Circular Economy in Plastics

Fuel for Thought

Wales and Ireland Move Towards Circular Economy in Plastics

Dec 05 2022

In the last few weeks, both the Republic of Ireland and Wales have made significant strides towards the circular economy as government takes the lead in funding relevant projects.­­ Both initiatives are continuations of pre-existing programmes and are considered aspects of the nations’ climate policies, helping them to hit their statutory deadlines.

In 2020, the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications, Ossian Smyth TD, cut the ribbon on Circuléire, a 4.5m public-private fund, with 25 industrial leaders as shareholders, available for investment in various commercial projects and research proposals. It’s billed as a problem-solver for industry, helping to incentivise start-ups offering MNCs and SMEs circular solutions for waste management and energy generation. The aim is to use these industrial innovations to trial all sorts of new circular technologies, especially those which deal with what Circuléire calls the raw materials, water and energy nexus. It’s a more comprehensive approach, then, with an eye to ensuring that in carbon emissions does not come at the price of other forms of environmental pollution. So far, the project has had considerable success increasing circularity in plastics, as well as in construction, furniture, medical devices, and textiles sectors.

The platform was established with a three-year mandate in 2020, expiring in a month or so. With the successful completion of this probationary period, the Minister of State announced in his keynote address to Circuléire’s Virtual Conference an extension of funding by a further €1.5 million for 2023. It’s believed that the platform will continue to grow in importance through to the end of the decade as an indispensable pillar in Ireland’s strategy for achieving its targets in greenhouse gas reductions by 2030. As Minister Smyth put it in his address: “Since its inception in 2020, Circuléire and its members have been leading the way in circular innovation, supporting manufacturers and their supply chains to embrace circular economy principles.”

Just over the water in Wales, there’s a similar success story. Between 1998 and 1999, in the first year of devolved governance, municipal recycling rates across Wales were around 5%. In 2020-21, they’re 65%, an increase of 1,300%! Since devolution, when the Senedd gained increased powers over the region, the Ministry for Climate Change (an institution unique within the United Kingdom) has pumped about £1bn in investment into recycling schemes and infrastructure. According to the government’s own estimations, such increases in recycling rates stop around 400,000 tonnes of CO2 being released into Welsh air every year. But the Welsh government want to do even better.

In opening the public consultations for a suite of new recycling proposals, the Minister for Climate Change, Julie James, stated that: “In the World Cup of recycling, as the third best recycling nation, we’d be a shoo-in for the semi-finals. But taking a page out of Cymru’s book, we want to go further. These proposals will deliver significant carbon savings, increase consistency in the way recyclable materials are collected across Wales and bring significant positive benefits for the economy.”

These proposals are part of the government’s strategy to achieve net-zero waste by 2050, keeping all sorts of resources in use, including plastics. The consultations will close on February 15th, next year.

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