A regenerative ‘Circular Economy’ includes more localisation of economic activity

The Circular Economy is advocated to replace and address the social and environmental damage done by the current ‘Linear Economy’ with its ‘take, make, dispose’ model, depleting finite reserves to create products that end up in landfill or in incinerators. It achieves its objectives through long-lasting design, maintenance, repair, reuse, remanufacturing, refurbishing, and recycling – reducing waste to zero. Some examples of such practice are presented on the website of the World Economic Forum.

The idea of circular material flows as a model for the economy was presented in 1966 by an economist, Professor Kenneth Boulding, in his paper The Economics of the Coming Spaceship Earth.

In the 70s, Walter R. Stahel, architect, economist and a founding father of industrial sustainability, worked on developing a “closed loop” approach to production processes. He co-founded the Product-Life Institute in Geneva; its main goals are product-life extension, long-life goods, reconditioning activities, waste prevention, advocating “more localisation of economic activity”.

With Genevieve Reday, he outlined the vision of an economy in loops (or circular economy) and its impact on job creation, economic competitiveness, resource savings, and waste prevention. Their Hannah Reekman research report to the European Commission, “The Potential for Substituting Manpower for Energy” (1976) was published in 1982 as a book (left) Jobs for Tomorrow: The Potential for Substituting Manpower for Energy. 

The Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP) a charity, which receives funding from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Northern Ireland Executive, Zero Waste Scotland, the Welsh Government and the European Union was set up in 2000.  From its headquarters in Banbury it works with businesses, individuals and communities to achieve a circular economy through helping them to reduce waste, develop sustainable products and use resources in an efficient way. Below: the header for its March report:

On 17 December 2012, the European Commission published a document entitled Manifesto for a Resource Efficient Europe. This manifesto clearly stated that “In a world with growing pressures on resources and the environment, the EU has no choice but to go for the transition to a resource-efficient and ultimately regenerative circular economy” and outlined potential pathways to a circular economy, in innovation and investment, regulation, tackling harmful subsidies, increasing opportunities for new business models, and setting clear targets.

‘Resource’, the first large scale event for the circular economy was held In March 2014 and Walter Stahel joined the programme of 100 business leaders and experts. Many major stakeholders and visitors from across the globe attended. An annual large scale event is now increasing the uptake of circular economy principles. Circular Economy Examples may be seen on the website of the World Economic Forum and there are indications that some multinational companies may be cherry-picking related ideas which cut costs and increase profits.

Some will have reservations about the involvement of McKinsey & Company, which has issued two reports on the subject – one commissioned by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.

Peter Day explored the work of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and its associates on radio (In Business) on 23rd April 2015 – listen again here.

Ellen established this independent charity in 2010 and eloquently outlines the economic opportunity of a circular economy, giving the concept wide exposure and appeal.





Environmental, economic, social and ethical reasons for a different approach to waste disposal


In this country and abroad Veolia’s services are being dispensed with for environmental, economic, social and ethical reasons.

The City Council is considering what to do when its 25 year contract with waste giant Veolia expires in 2018.


John Newson (BFOE) writes:


tyseley waste“The Council will become in 2018 the owner of the largest emitter in Birmingham of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide: People in East Birmingham have a shorter life expectancy by some years than other parts of the city and although this cannot be definitely linked to the incinerator, much evidence of the health effects of incineration have come to light, since it was built.

“We are calling upon Birmingham City Council to develop a new approach as “Birmingham Waste Savers”. The collection system creates the waste stream; it should be designed backwards to produce outputs that have value. The coming change from bags to bins gives a great opportunity to design for less rubbish and to collect wastes you actually want . . . (leaving)  clean materials that can be reused or recycled.

“The city’s 60% recycling target can be just a beginning, since there are authorities in Britain past 70% and aiming for 80%. A lot of second hand goods can be recovered by local projects and sold to low income families instead of being burned”.

A better use for the site is sketched in the article and might well include reuse shops seen in other parts of the region.


Combining localisation, recycling and social enterprise, Localise West Midlands has worked on business plans for Birmingham ‘tip shops’.

 tip shop shakespeare hospice

These have already been developed at Warwick, run by Age Concern, Leamington, Sue Ryder, and Stratford, the Shakespeare Hospice  (above) – sited at municipal tips diverting decent goods for re-sale that would otherwise be landfilled. In so doing so, they save the local authority money and generate an income for the social enterprise that run them.


Worldwide protests against Veolia are voiced locally by the West Midlands Palestine Solidarity Campaign


This French multinational’s activities include:

  • helping to build and operate a tramway linking illegal settlements in East Jerusalem with Israel
  • operates bus services for Israeli settlers, running them between the illegal settlements and Israel on ‘apartheid’ roads, which Palestinians are forbidden to use.
  • its subsidiary, TMM, Veolia also collects refuse from illegal settlements at the Tovlan landfill site in the occupied Jordan Valley.
Tramway under construction in 2006
Tramway under construction in 2006






Could Birmingham learn from Belfast?

Former World Bank economist Dr. Zaidi Sattar, Chairman of the Policy Research Institute of Bangladesh asked, “Can social business rescue capitalism from its internal destructive forces?” The question and his proposal was repeated on this site in January.


The suggested cornerstone is social business, with a commercially viable business model that pays its way while solving a social problem, generating a surplus to reinvest and sustain or expand the business. Since maximising profits is not the objective, the social good could be provided at a price that is affordable to the poor, but below what the market could bear. Social goods include:

  • healthcare
  • housing financial services
  • nutrition for malnourished children
  • providing safe drinking water
  • introducing renewable energy

In Belfast the Trademark co-operative is helping to set up worker co-operatives bridging the divided community. Read more on a sister site.

Trademark’s Stephen Nolan and Alice McLarnon

Similar opportunities could be created in Birmingham—another area of high unemployment and different communities.

Proximity Principle 2

 The Irish Foundation for Sustainable Economics [FEASTA] recently published Fleeing Vesuvius, Overcoming the Risks of Economic and Environmental Collapse. 

In one chapter, architect Emer O’Siochru [pictured below] proposes that different activities should be situated beside each other to be more energy and carbon efficient. 


“In the shadow or shelter of each other, live the people” – old Irish saying. 

She notes the heavy investment in Ireland over the past 50 years in putting distance into living and working arrangements:

” We live apart from each other, work far from where we live, shop far from where we work, grow food far from where we eat and so on.

“Our support systems are all fall-flung and invisible; electricity is generated remotely, waste is processed remotely, knowledge is generated remotely to our everyday experience.

“Something profound has happened to the way we live.” 


The Proximity Principle

The Proximity Principle, Julian Rose’s theory of local production and consumption, has been featured on this site: “Local communities can produce their own food, fabrics and energy – government policies should encourage regeneration of regional economies”. 


Proximity Principle 2

FEASTA offers Proximity Principle 2. Emer O’Siochru, writing in great detail and citing several examples of good practice, believes that realising the idea of a redefined and augmented ‘proximity’ will offer tangible benefits, including greater energy and food security in the long term, and in the short term, rural jobs in waste treatment and energy generation.