Hampshire Collection Options Modelling

Is the Circular Economy prejudiced?

4 December 2023

WRAP calls for policies to scale up UK’s circular economy and address inequality.

  • UK circular economy dominated by men - only one in four jobs go to women.
  • More women in lowest paid roles – predominately second-hand sales.
  • WRAP calls for action to address inequality in the circular economy.

On Gender Equality Day at COP28 – with the Guardian reporting that only 15 out of the 133 world leaders participating in this year’s COP28 are women (11%) – climate action NGO WRAP points to disturbing data from the Office of National Statistics showing that only one in four jobs in the UK’s growing Circular Economy go to women. This situation is unlike the wider UK economy where, since the 1990s, around half of jobs are held by men and half by women.

Over the last decade, circular economy jobs* have been a success story for UK Plc growing by 20% between 2014 and 2019 to 558,000 jobs. The sector has added to the economy as it helped tackle environmental issues linked to consumption-based emissions by reducing the use of virgin resources through initiatives around repair or re-use. WRAP believes the sector has the potential to double in size by 2030 and calls for policies to promote the circular economy.

But analysis by WRAP shows that within the UK circular economy, men dominate the workforce in key roles, and women hold only a quarter of jobs – predominantly the lowest paid or voluntary roles.  

WRAP CEO Harriet Lamb, “The circular economy is a growing alternative to old-fashioned economic thinking, offering a positive vision of change and of the future. So, imagine our shock to discover that the circular economy has its own old-fashioned, backwards-looking prejudices! Women are hugely under-represented in paid roles in the circular economy and steps must be taken to encourage more girls and young women into the sector, across the range of opportunities. We urgently need to drive up the numbers and improve the roles women get as we support the circular economy more widely.”

WRAP identified several causes for why women are underrepresented in the circular economy and warns that without confronting inequalities head on, nothing will change.

The organisation highlights key issues including employment trends in the sector and misconceptions of the types of jobs and skills required. It noted gender disparities in training in science, technology, engineering, and maths (STEM) and issues around jobs which affect women more than men, such as childcare.

Harriet Lamb, “The causes range from fewer girls taking STEM subjects at college right through to practical factors which put women off like work boots being only in larger sizes! The gender disparity in the circular economy is broadly similar to that in STEM. There are many successful examples within the circular economy of initiatives run by pioneering women, but these are rarities rather than being the norm throughout the sector, which is largely unaware of the disparities. That needs to change.”

The challenge is not unique to the circular economy, but WRAP believes the sector could help change the situation today. The organisation wants to start a conversation about how the circular economy can become more inclusive and wants to see positive actions promoted by UK businesses and in education to open more opportunities to women within the circular economy.

In practical terms, WRAP advises businesses to consider the make-up of its workforce and the roles that employees are in, and how diverse and inclusive they are. It encourages businesses to consider recruitment, skills development, and training opportunities to ensure all prospective applicants can engage, while also urging Government and businesses to throw their weight behind promoting the sector.


Notes to Editor

Notes to editor

  • *WRAP’s assessment looked at jobs primarily related to reuse, repair, recycling, and resale covering the full range of skills across an organisation - from repairing clothes, furniture or electricals through to marketing and IT, managing volunteers and customers, or creating new designs for products so they are circular from the start.
  • Is the Circular Economy Prejudiced?
    • Data is not available to explore other important issues of inclusivity in the sector, such as age, disability, and race. WRAP recognise that gender is more than male or female and includes non-binary, gender-fluid, gender non-conforming, and other groups. The report focusses on male and female as the only groups for which data is available. WRAP’s evaluation is based on data produced by the Office of National Statistics.
    • WRAP assessment of ONS data includes jobs within recycling, repair and reuse and rental and leasing.
  • WRAP is a climate action NGO working around the globe to tackle the causes of the climate crisis and give the planet a sustainable future. We believe that our natural resources should not be wasted and that everything we use should be re-used and recycled. We bring together and work with governments, businesses, and individuals to ensure that the world’s natural resources are used more sustainably. Our work includes: UK Plastics Pact, Courtauld Commitment 2030, Textiles 2030 and the campaigns Love Food Hate Waste and Recycle Now. We run Food Waste Action Week and Recycle Week