Circular economy to drive UK sustainability


The University of Leeds has secured funding to help two large industrial sectors make the transition to a greener, more sustainable future where they reduce waste, energy and pollution.

They are the textiles and construction sectors.

The Government believes it will result in businesses using fewer resources and having less impact on the environment. They also want it to spark innovation in product and material design and create jobs.

Researchers at Leeds will help embed the principles of the circular economy across the industrial sectors. That involves a shift away from a linear business model of raw materials being extracted, processed and then discarded – to one where materials are designed to be reused.

Environment Minister Rebecca Power said: “Creating a more circular economy for our waste and resources lies at the heart of this government’s transformative agenda for the environment, and we are committed to going further and faster to reduce, reuse and recycle more of our resources.”

In total, the Government announced five centres to drive circularity across the UK economy. Leeds is involved with two.

Reducing UK construction waste 

The Government hopes the initiative will reduce the amount of minerals extracted by the UK construction sector every day by half a million tonnes – and the generation of 154 million tonnes of mineral waste each year.

A group of universities including Leeds has received £4.5 million from UK Research and Innovation to establish and operate the research centre, known as the Interdisciplinary Circular Economy Centre for Minerals-Based Construction Materials.

Leon Black, Professor of Infrastructure Materials in the School of Civil Engineering, said: “We use huge quantities of construction materials in the UK and across the globe. This has a great environmental impact, from extraction of raw materials, through manufacture and processing, to end-of-life demolition. That approach is no longer sustainable. 

It wastes too many resources and hampers efforts for the UK to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.”

The construction industry is an important economic sector which is expected to be delivering £600 billion-worth of major infrastructure works over the next decade. The new research centre will address the problem through three approaches:

  • Looking at material stocks and flows, analysing at what point materials may become waste.
  • Solving technical barriers to circularity and looking at how business models and guidelines can encourage a move away from build-use-demolish - with solutions such as designing building modules that can be dismantled and reused

  • Identifying new uses for materials that are currently regarded as worthless once used.

LafargeHolcim is a multi-national supplier of cement, concrete and aggregates for the global construction industry. Its scientific director Christophe Levy said: “LafargeHolcim is committed to improve the sustainability of the construction industry and the adoption of circular economy practices is a key component of this.

The institutions involved in the Interdisciplinary Circular Economy Centre for Minerals-Based Construction Materials are University College London, which is leading the project, in partnership with the University of Leeds, Loughborough University, University of Sheffield, Imperial College London, Lancaster University and the British Geological Survey.

Interdisciplinary Textiles Circularity Centre

The Interdisciplinary Textile Circularity Centre aims to lessen the environmental impact of clothing in the UK. It will use household waste and used textiles to develop new textiles instead of relying on imported materials.

The emission levels caused by the UK’s textiles industry are almost as high as the total CO2 emitted through people using cars for private trips.

The image shows a clothes rail displaying shirts in a clothing store

Picture credit: Pixabay 

Phil Purnell, Professor of Materials and Structures in the School of Civil Engineering, is Deputy Director of the new centre.

He said: “The Textiles Circularity Centre will provide the underpinning research that will enable the transition to a more circular economy that supports a brand of textiles that are designed and made in the UK. 

“That research will stimulate growth in the fashion and textiles sectors. The work will support small to medium sized companies through innovation in materials and product manufacturing, supply chain design, and consumer experiences.

The Government has awarded £5.4 million for the Textiles Circularity Centre.

The group of universities supporting the Textiles Circularity Centre are the Royal College of Art, lead institution, with the University of Leeds, University of York, University of Manchester, Cranfield University, University of Cambridge, and University College London.

Three other centres were announced by Government to promote the circular economy across the chemicals and metals sectors. Total funding for the five projects was £22.5 million.