Using resources more sustainably to generate prosperity – a shared vision at #RTF17

Marcus Gover, CEO WRAP

What will life be like in the UK 25 years from now, and what are the economic and environmental implications?  It sounds a long time away, but the thing about the future is that the actions of the past can’t be changed once you get there.

That’s why at WRAP we’re not waiting for the future – we’re thinking about 2040 now.  And we’re not the only ones.  I was delighted to have the opportunity to speak to delegates of the Resourcing the Future Conference this week about our vision for using resources more sustainably to generate growth for the UK.  I was even more delighted that, from our discussions, it became clear it is a vision shared by many.

So what will the UK look like in 2040 and what does this mean?  The population is expected to have increased  by 10 million to 74 million, which will clearly have an impact on what we consume and the amount of waste we produce.  There will be more households – around 6 million more and an anticipated 25% increase in single person households.  This will have implications for current recycling infrastructure and how we collect our waste.  We will have an older population, with nearly a quarter of people over the age of 65. I have said before that with challenge comes opportunity. 

Our vision, to turn these challenges into golden opportunities is a transformative circular economy in the UK – a sustainable resources model that works for our environment and economy, ensuring it is fit for purpose in 2040.  And not just fit for purpose; positively flourishing. 

Through an expansion of circular economy activities, we estimate the UK economy Gross Value Added (GVA) could grow by around £75 billion. We also estimate that a UK circular economy, driven by product design, re-use, repair, and recycling could generate as many as 500,000 jobs by 2030.  With more products and packaging designed to be recyclable, recycling rates may well be up to 75% with more of these materials retained for use in the UK and imports reduced.

This is all great news for the economy and the environment, but it will remain as just a vision unless we start taking practical steps now.  How do we accelerate the adoption of resource-efficient business models?; How do we make edible food waste history and win the food waste fight?; What infrastructure and markets do we need in a world with over 75% recycling?  These are all issues that need to be worked through, and are areas that WRAP is addressing through our current programmes.

There is still much talking to do, but not just talk; talk to facilitate action.  Achieving sustainable benefits is quite a prize, and what our work shows us is that it IS possible.  It can’t wait until 2040.  We can do this, so let’s get on with it.


Materials Flow 2040