New centre will seek circular solutions as sustainability efforts increase

The UK has revealed it is to be home to the world’s first United Nations-backed International Centre of Excellence on Sustainable Resource Management in the Circular Economy.

The centre will bring together five core institutions to create the ability to research and investigate how the world can better use its resources.

The move highlights the growing determination to shift the focus toward a more sustainable use of the world’s resources and with it a change in societal thinking over the acceptance of reuse.

It comes amid rising concerns from campaigners over the ongoing use of materials and good on a single use basis. While the acceptance of an end to the use of single use plastic is already evident the centre will seek to find way to better reuse and recycle the world’s finite resources.

The scheme was announced by UK resources minister Robbie Moore who explained it will open in April 2024, and will comprise five institutions: University College London (UCL), University of Exeter, Brunel University London, Swansea University and the British Geological Survey.

More said the decisions to base the centre in the Uke was in recognition of world-class British academic expertise and cutting-edge scientific research.

A circular economy is one in which resources are kept in use for as long as possible, rather than being taken from the earth, used once and disposed of in landfill.

The centre will develop sustainable approaches to the circular economy and resource efficiency to enable carbon reduction and the transition to a greener future. The UK will help countries across the world to maximise the environmental and economic opportunities the circular economy offers.

Co-ordinated by a Government-funded UNECE research manager based in Geneva, this coalition will leverage their expertise to explore circularity in areas such as metals, construction and critical minerals to develop effective data, technological innovation, finance models and policy. The five participating institutions have together contributed £1.85 million to fund the centre’s technical activities.

Moore said: “This is real recognition of the UK’s global leadership in sustainable resource management and testament to Britain’s world-leading academic expertise.

“We are delighted to host this centre, enabling our cutting-edge UK academics to develop the tools and research that will help countries across the world seize the opportunities of the circular economy, leading the way in the transition to a greener future.”

UNECE Executive Secretary Tatiana Molcean said the circular economy was key to future sustainability/

“Making the use of our resources more sustainable and moving towards a circular economy is fundamental to sustainable development and climate action,” she explained. “Partnerships mobilising international expertise play an important role in UN cooperation to develop and share best practices. I welcome the establishment of this new Centre of Excellence, with its focus on circularity of metals, construction and critical raw materials.”

In July 2023, the UK government announced new plans setting out its long-term aim to use fewer new resources, drive up the repair and reuse of existing materials and increase recycling. The programme – Maximising Resources, Minimising Waste – brings together a range of measures backed by government funding which will help to keep products and materials in circulation for as long as possible and at their highest value, including through increasing reuse, repair and remanufacture, helping to grow the economy and boost employment.

The University of Exeter said it was delighted to play a part in the new centre.

“In a circular economy, resources are kept in use at their highest value for as long as possible, rather than being taken from the earth, used once and disposed of in landfill – with products and materials maintained, reused and remanufactured where possible,” it said.

Professor Peter Hopkinson, co-director of the NICER CE-hub at the University of Exeter said: “To accelerate a transition to a circular economy requires real-time, forward looking and reusable data systems aligned to policy and industry needs. Exeter’s NICER CE-data observatory provides the foundation for such an approach, which we can now scale and apply globally to influence real world decisions across multiple resource flows.”

The university explained the centre has been tasked to develop new approaches to the circular economy and resource efficiency to enable carbon reduction and the transition to a greener future as well as ensure the UK can help countries across the world to maximise the environmental and economic opportunities the circular economy offers.

The centre will draw heavily on the success of Exeter and other partner institutions in the National Interdisciplinary Circular Economy Research (NICER) research and development programme, a four-year £30 million investment established by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’ chief scientist in 2019 under the UK Government’s Strategic Priorities Fund.

The University of Exeter’s (below) work role in the NICER programme comes through its Interdisciplinary Circular Economy Centre for Technology Metals (Met4Tech) and co-ordinating National Interdisciplinary Circular Economy Research Hub (NICER CE-Hub).

Professor Fiona Charnley, co-director of the University of Exeter’s NICER CE-hub, said: “The new Centre of Excellence will allow the coalition of partners to build on the past four years of the NICER programme to amplify Exeter’s programme of work on CE roadmaps, knowledge exchange, policy tools, business model innovation and executive education and training.”

Professor Frances Wall, professor of Applied Mineralogy at the Camborne School of Mines, part of the University of Exeter, said: “We have been working with the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe for a while, including writing up a formal case study of the United Nations Resource Management System applied to Cornwall and contributing to other Circular Economy activities. The International Centre of Excellence is an exciting initiative that will enable us to build on this, with research and training towards using our natural resources wisely for the benefit of all, with colleagues worldwide.”

“Making the use of our resources more sustainable and moving towards a circular economy is fundamental to sustainable development and climate action,” she explained. “Partnerships mobilising international expertise play an important role in UN cooperation to develop and share best practices.’’

 Tatiana Molcean, UNECE

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