Now that the fervour of the biggest consumer period has settled, it’s time to take stock and to analyse the opportunities available in creating value from waste.
Very often, we send diligent people out into the world to find the next must-have product or materials to continue to produce the products that make life worth living. Little thought is given to the concept that one day those materials and goods may just not be there; either as a result of growing economies paying a better price than we can or the cost of extraction, production, or growing becoming unaffordable.
For many leaders in the SME sector, this issue is not on the radar because the attention required to grow a business within a sluggish recovery is all-consuming. The difficulty is that the impacts of a finite world will start to have an upward push on the prices of materials (despite the temporary dip in oil prices), regardless of whether you believe the consequences of climate change are detrimental or not. The fact that so many of the world’s best-known organisations and BITC members, such as Unilever, Kingfisher Group and Boots to name but a few, are buying into the Circular Economy and its many manifestations shows that now may be the time that we in Northern Ireland take notice.
Unknown to most, the ReNEW project, or ‘Resource innovation Network for European Waste’, has been exploring the engineering and policy implications for the Circular Economy in Northern Ireland and Europe for the past two years. It is being led by researchers from the QUESTOR Centre at Queen’s University Belfast with the assistance of other notable research agencies across North West Europe and is a €5 million project, funded by INTERREG IVB North West Europe.
It has a simple yet profound purpose: to inspire and increase collaboration between research establishments, governments and businesses to create value from waste. ReNEW is attempting to transform the waste sector of North West Europe by improving and encouraging innovation in the recovery of valuable resources not currently captured at end-of-life. It’s an exemplar for resource efficiency and recovery: a growing network using new technologies to extract materials from waste and to allow for their re-use.
ReNEW has the potential to lead the way in growing NI’s research excellence and providing a host of new opportunities for economic growth by lowering the costs of production and the potential export of technologies into the global playing field. It has gained recognition at Ministerial level with Mark H Durkan stating that ReNEW “provides an insight into the ‘art of the possible’” and “will help in formulating future Northern Ireland strategy as we look at ways to become more sustainable in the use of our resources”.
Over the coming months, ReNEW will be seeking to engage with the business community to accurately determine the needs of the sector and to ensure that further research is tailored to, ensuring that we can continue to manufacture the best planes, buses and cheeses!