Circular Economy Overview

An introduction to what a circular economy is, why it's important and how you should approach it.
About the Circular Economy
About the Circular Economy

What is the Circular Economy?

The circular economy is a solution for industry and business of all scales to reduce, reuse and recycle waste. 

The circular economy aims to turn all wastes into a resource by reintroducing them into the production cycle instead of product disposal at the end of their useful life. 

As well as creating new opportunities for growth, a more circular economy will:

  • reduce waste
  • drive greater resource productivity
  • deliver a more competitive UK economy
  • position the UK to better address emerging resource security/scarcity issues in the future
  • help reduce the environmental impacts of our production and consumption in both the UK and abroad
Why the circular economy is important

Why the circular economy is important

Our world is supplied with finite resources. While these resources regenerate, they are doing so at a slower rate than we as a population are extracting them. Many of those finite resources are becoming scarce — clean drinking water, quality soil, natural gas, minerals, precious metals, and more. In the past forty years, annual global extraction of materials has tripled.

By 2050, the total demand for resources is expected to reach 130 billion tons, up from 50 billion in 2014, a 400% increase.

By applying a circular economy model, companies can help contribute to the replenishing of Earth's natural resources while simultaneously extracting more value out of existing materials and resources used in daily operations. Additional benefits include:

  • Save money and improve price stability across your entire supply chain
  • Pioneer change within your industry, satisfying changing customer needs and shifting markets
  • Stay ahead of government regulations and new requirements
  • Empower your employees with a message of positive change
  • Gain customer loyalty and improve your brand recognition

Driving Circular Thinking

Now is the time we make a fundamental shift towards the circular economy. This isn’t recycling rebranded its full supply chain management taking into account resource management across the board - water, waste and
energy. There are three players in this game, the brands that produce the products, the consumers that buy them and Veolia the enabler giving them a second, third or fourth life. With our expertise, we can help our customers meet these challenges through fully integrated resourcing solutions.

windfall to UK
GDP from circular

175k new jobs could be
created throughout
the UK

How much could it be worth to you?

At Veolia, we’re committed to a future where end-of-life resources are transformed into products that enrich our lives and power homes and businesses. A future where production and consumption go hand in hand – and nothing goes to waste. It’s the reason we’re committed to helping our customers embrace the circular economy.

By throwing things away without a second thought, we are missing opportunities to create new products
and low-carbon energy. We support closed-loop models that reuse and re-manufacture materials as standard, design products to last longer and integrate sustainability seamlessly into our lives. Everything that we buy, use or consume should be recycled or converted into energy.

And we’re working hard to make this circular vision a reality for our customers.


What is a linear versus circular economy?

For many years, most manufacturers and production facilities have operated using a linear economy. This ‘take, make, dispose’ method of manufacturing means that instead of recycling the raw materials and any waste associated with the production process, they are disposed of instead.

A circular economy emphasises the importance of keeping resources in use for as long as possible and once the maximum value has been extracted, recovering and recycling these resources so they can be used again.

Whereas a linear economy will only damage the environment further, a circular economy will decrease the impact of production and consumption in the UK, significantly reduce waste and will lessen the pressure on the country’s dangerously low natural resources.


Boost your bottom line - think circular

Whether you are a large corporate or an SME, circular thinking can help you extract value from the waste and resources in your supply chain.

But no one has all the answers. That’s why collaborating with a partner like Veolia is so important. By adopting processes that recover and transform waste, water and energy, the circular economy can deliver value by:

Diverting waste from
landfill and moving waste
up the hierarchy

Creating competitively
priced feedstocks
and products

Reducing your
environmental footprint
versus using raw materials

Our innovative processes can prepare and clean materials such as recovered plastics, metals and fibres to standards that are often superior to virgin materials.

And thanks to technological efficiencies, our circular materials are guaranteed
to be competitively priced and offer resource security compared with conventionally
sourced raw materials.

So whether you are already engaged in circular economy activities, or are starting from
scratch, Veolia’s economic and  environmental synergies across water, waste and
energy can help you to boost your bottom line.

Our approach includes:

  • site audits and dedicated account managers
  • access to Veolia’s innovation development process
  • unique technology and capital investment.

Applying the Circular Economy to your Business

When implementing circular concepts into your business plan there are certain tipping points that greatly affect the success of adoption.

Let the data drive decisions

All company structures and processes are different, each with unique opportunities to maximize efficiency and reduce waste through evaluating current resource use and applying one or more circular concept to their current process. Collect all relevant production data to gain a more holistic view of what and how resources are used in your company's processes.


Consider All Forms of Circularity

The circular economy can present in many forms - its ever-evolving and a profound opportunity for creative applications of circular concepts to make an impact on not only cost savings but also our planet’s limited resources. Resource recovery, sharing models, product life extension, service as a product model, and circular supplies models all manifest circularity in different ways.

Engage Stakeholders Early

Identify both the primary and secondary stakeholders. By what parameters will the shift to circular processes be evaluated? It’s likely that your company already has goals around sustainability, but what overarching changes can be considered? These conversations must engage top stakeholders early as they will be critical in seeing the initiative through.


Consult with Experts

Research, conversation, and due diligence are all critical processes in the transition to a more circular business model. Environmental service companies can be useful in helping to gather the right data and see potential solutions in a new light. While there are endless combinations of circular activity, finding the right processes to implement can be challenging.


The Circular Economy for Water

Climate change and population growth have put burgeoning demands on our water sources, making responsible water management a necessity. Water-stressed areas require increasing regulation which has led both industry and municipalities to seek more efficient and cost-effective use. 

Despite the same circular goals, though, the different situational uses for water and different sources of wastewater require unique treatments and specific standards of effluent quality.

Reducing water scarcity one drop at a time

Recycling water for food production

Working with Bakkavor, a national food producer, we have created a landmark solution that has enabled recycled water to be used in food production.

Despite our reputation for wet weather, you may be surprised to hear that the UK has less rainfall per person than our Northern European neighbours, and London is drier than Istanbul.

This is why water supply and wastewater treatment is a national priority. Our water supply is under great strain from the ever-increasing demand of households, business and industry and the effects of climate change are taking their toll too.

In short, as a nation, we are using more water, but there’s less to go around.

Tilmanstone Salads is based in Kent, an area of water scarcity and came to us for help in reducing its environmental impact. To achieve this, we created a water recycling facility that took the wastewater from the factory and safely recycled 72% of it back into the food production process.

The system is designed to meet the high standards required for drinking water and is the first example in the UK of recycled water being used in food production. Not only has it delivered significant cost savings and reduced our client’s environmental footprint, but it has also brought them significant recognition.

Tilmanstone has received the prestigious Supplier of the Year award from Marks and Spencer, a title contested by 50,000 companies.

Talk to an expert in Municipal and Industrial water solutions to see what sustainable circular solutions are available for your business. 


The Circular Economy for Waste

The circular economy is a set of standards and practices that expands beyond industry, for all industries inevitably produce a waste stream. Whether applied in the petrochemical world by regenerating sulfuric acid, or in daily life by correctly recycling your old iPhone, waste is ever-present, ever-growing, and critical to be managed responsibly.

Today we have a mature production process that has harvested the low hanging fruit. However, there are gains to be made by applying the concepts of a circular approach to formerly linear processes.

Creating bags more potential for plastic carriers

Bag2Bag recycling

Working alongside local authorities, we offer a closed-loop environmental solution by recycling used plastic bags into refuse sacks.

In England alone, millions of plastic carrier bags are used each year. A large percentage end up in landfill sites where they take a long time to decompose or can be found littering our towns, cities, coasts and countryside.

Although England followed in the footsteps of Ireland, Wales and Scotland and introduced a mandatory charge for single-use plastic bags in 2015, the problem is still a big one.

So we have given plastic bags a new life by turning them into refuse sacks. We collect used bags from retailers and at our Materials Recovery Facilities (MRFs) and transport them to our recycling partner. The bags are washed, processed, turned into pellets and made into bin bags. We then deliver them back to the local authority where the used shopping bags were first collected.

Residents in Southwark now use Bag2Bag for their refuse waste as part of a closed-loop solution. We are looking to extend this scheme at a number of our MRFs across the UK.

Ensuring our waste doesn’t go to waste

Biogas from human sewage

We produce over 11 billion litres of human sewage in the UK every day. Advances in technology mean that capturing the biogas from all of it could deliver an estimated 1,697GWh: that’s enough electricity to power over half a million homes.

On average only 66% of sewage is being treated at AD facilities, meaning a lot of our waste is going to waste.

By significantly increasing the power derived from the anaerobic digestion of sludge, Veolia’s latest innovation boosts sustainability, reduces carbon emissions and lower costs.

Wastewater treatment plants process large amounts of sludge through AD. The resulting biogas used to generate electricity via Combined Heat and Power (CHP) plants. The new Veolia system reduced hydrogen sulphide (H2S) and demonstrated a 14% increase in renewable
electricity generation – a significant step towards the circular economy.

Today, the potential power from human sewage could keep around 14 million LED/LCD TVs, 112 million phone chargers, 280 million alarm clock radios or ten million games consoles5 running constantly, increasing the resilience of the National Grid and helping to control
energy bills.

.Talk to an expert in Waste solutions to see what sustainable circular solutions are available for your business


The Circular Economy for Energy

Waste to energy solutions help companies and local governments accomplish two circular economy goals in one by diverting waste streams from landfills and producing a form of renewable energy, thereby reducing reliance on fossil fuels. What's more, utilities can save on energy costs or even profit by selling off the bioenergy they produce.

Fuelling the supply of renewable energy

Wood-fired biomass

Wood biomass is a renewable fuel that can generate heat and electricity at the same time as reducing environmental impact. Around the world, we manage hundreds of wood-fired biomass energy plants that supply electricity (power stations) or heat (steam, hot water) or both from Combined Heat and Power (CHP) plants.

This renewable energy can either be used to power a specific site or it can be supplied
back to the National Grid. There is also the added benefit of using the excess heat for a district heating network or an industrial facility, contributing to cutting carbon emissions and meeting climate-change targets.

Each year in the UK, we turn some 230,000 tonnes of discarded wood (in the form of chips or pellets) into renewable energy. This generates enough electricity to supply approximately 66,000 homes through the National Grid, and supplies heat to district heating schemes that serve another 3,300.

Most industrial sites use a process that has a requirement for heat. Biomass CHP can be an option for these facilities with high steam and electrical loads.

Talk to an expert in Energy solutions to see what sustainable circular solutions are available for your business.


How can Veolia help you?

Interested in how we can apply the Circular Economy model to your business?
Get in touch with us.