Do we need a circular economy? Absolutely – here’s 3 reasons why

Do we need a circular economy? Absolutely – here’s 3 reasons why

In Zero Waste Week our Head of Responsible Sourcing explains why transition to a circular economy is vital and looks at resource management in seafood

Today is the first day of Zero Waste Week. This national campaign aims to help householders, businesses, schools and community groups increase recycling, reduce landfill waste and participate in the circular economy. Campaigns such as this are a useful reminder of the importance of thinking about how we use finite resources. So this is a good time to focus on the importance of the transition to a circular economy.

What is the circular economy and why is it important?

Circular economy is an approach to production and consumption which focuses on reusing, repairing, and recycling materials for as long as possible. According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, a circular economy “decouples economic activity from the consumption of finite resources. It is a resilient system that is good for business, people and the environment.”

The circular economy is a systems solution framework that tackles global challenges like climate change, biodiversity loss, waste, and pollution.
Ellen MacArthur Foundation

But why should this matter for seafood businesses? Here are three reasons why it’s important to focus on sustainable resource management:

1. Business reputation: Evidence-based conversations about our collective impact on the planet are getting louder. Demand for products and services are increasing as the global population grows and develops, but we have finite natural resources available to meet these needs. This necessitates the move from our traditional linear economy - with its ‘take’, ‘make’, ‘use’, ‘dispose’ approach - to a circular economy, where we ‘reclaim’ products and materials for reuse, remanufacture or recycling, rather than extracting further finite resources.

2. Economic benefits: By embedding a circular economy culture and principles, businesses’ can potentially repurpose wastes to realise cost savings. This allows new revenue streams to be unlocked and makes supply chains more resilient to external shocks and disruption. An executive briefing on BS 8001, a standard for implementing the principles of the circular economy in organisations, describes the circular economy as “one the of the biggest growth opportunities for many years”. It suggests that the net economic benefit of a circular economy in Europe alone could be worth €1.8 trillion by 2030.

3. Policy framework: Essentially waste streams are resources in the wrong place. We are seeing increasing regulatory focus on how we manage resources more sustainability across our systems of production and consumption. The Plastic Packaging Tax, which came in earlier this year, is an example of an initiative which aims to encourage greater use of recycled materials.

How is the seafood industry bringing in sustainable management of resources?

Transition to a circular economy will involve systems change which take time and effort. Thankfully there is already positive work happening on sustainable resource management within our seafood industry. Here are just a few examples…

In 2020, we produced a series of case studies looking at initiatives for recycling end-of-life fishing gear. We spoke to Brixham Trawl Makers, Odyssey Innovation and Plastix about their work supporting fishing gear recycling. We also looked at examples of how these recycled materials could be used – from 3D-printer filaments, created by Fishy Filaments, to clothing or textile yarns created by Aquafil.

Three photos of gear recycling case studies showing wire collection on pier, plastic pellets in hand and person on kayak made from recycled plastic

We included an article on how processing businesses can improve resource efficiency in our 2019 Cutting Edge magazine. It featured a few Scottish initiatives including support available from Resource Efficient Scotland and the Circular Economy Business Support Service by Zero Waste Scotland.

Businesses across the seafood supply chain are looking at how they can reduce the waste they produce. Macduff Shellfish reported reaching a milestone in their waste reduction plans by achieving zero landfill waste production for the first time in August 2022. They achieved this by working with specialists to identify all materials suitable for recycling and separating out non-recyclable materials to be processed via waste to energy.  

Other businesses are also focusing on repurposing waste to resources. For example:

  • Expanded polystyrene (EPS) from fish boxes at Billingsgate market being recycled into insulation panels;
  • Pennog Ltd receiving Seafood Innovation Fund support to demonstrate that crustacean shells could be used to selectively remove proteins and oils from fisheries processing for use in aquaculture feeds; and
  • Codland exploring the potential use of by-products in cosmetics, nutritional and medical products, with the aim of utilising 100% of each Atlantic cod landed.

A common question we get from businesses is what to do with by-products such as shells. This is a space where many innovative ideas are being trialled. Our Regional Manager in Northern Ireland is currently supporting a local project looking at repurposing waste shells. In other areas companies are already using shells in aggregates and building materials.

There’s clearly no shortage of innovation and it’s great to see positive work already underway. The challenge ahead is how to scale up smaller projects and initiatives so that we can fully embed the circular economy approach across supply chains.   

Find out more

Further information on Zero Waste Week is available from their website, you can access this from the link below:

Further information about a circular economy is available on the Ellen MacArthur Foundation website from the link below:

Information about BS1 8001 and the circular economy is available on the BSI website from the link below:

We produced a guidance document to raise awareness of how smaller processing businesses can reduce waste and improve resource management. You can download this document from the link below:

Read our guidance on the plastic packaging tax from the link below:

Find our more about recycling of fishing gear and get links to business case studies from the link below:

You can read the Cutting Edge article on opportunities for processing businesses to improve efficiency and reduce cost from the link below: