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A circular economy of ideas

One of the ‘occupational hazards’ you face when you’ve worked in a sector for a long time is that you find potential projects come round and round again.  You could call it a circular economy of ideas.

Iain Gulland - Chief Executive, Zero Waste Scotland | 21 Nov 14

One such idea I’ve seen come round a few times is about scaling up re-use by getting lots of small organisations to come together to create a much bigger, singular market presence, usually along a ‘hub and spoke’ model.

I remember talking up this opportunity to anyone who’d listen – including at the Scottish Parliament – almost 10 years ago, inspired by projects like Urban Ore in Berkeley, California at the time.  Despite lots of will and ambition to make something similar happen in Scotland, nothing really took off.

It’s good sometimes to reflect on why things don’t happen.  If we know that, we can plan better and possibly adapt our approach so they can happen in the future.

So I’m obviously delighted that today we’re publishing a new report which looks at this very opportunity around creating re-use hubs.  It takes a look around the world at successful examples, tries to broadly categorise those and then looks at which options might work in Scotland given the particular size and nature of our economy and current demand for re-used goods.

The good news is the report concludes that some specific models will have a very strong chance of success in Scotland.  With a consistent supply of high quality re-usable goods, and the right collaborations across the private, public and third sectors, the report is clear that large-scale retail models could transform re-use in Scotland, creating local jobs and social benefits.

The even better news is that we are launching a fund to help make this happen.  We’re inviting local authorities, third sector organisations and businesses to team up to form ‘hubs’ to source high-quality goods that can be refurbished or repaired and sold on.  Grants of up to £250,000 for projects led by local authorities, or £150,000 for other businesses, are available.  Third sector applications should be accredited with or working towards the Revolve re-use standard.

This is genuinely a transformative opportunity – and importantly I think the time is now right to make it work.  We’ve established good foundations for re-use in Scotland and its gaining stature all the time – through community organisations, charity shops, online exchange and retail sites, and other arenas.  For example we know that nearly 20% of all sofas in Scotland are currently re-used and this activity is worth around £1.5 million to the economy and it saves 4,500 tonnes of CO2 equivalent greenhouse gas emissions.  We also know that demand is increasing all the time.  Research shows that 83% of people in Scotland are happy to buy second hand goods.

So it’s clear to me that while we may have had the right ideas for a number of years, it’s also important to find the right time.  All indications are that for the idea of creating large-scale re-use hubs in Scotland, we have an opportunity right now to ‘catch the breeze’ and create something really exciting.  I really do hope so.

And of course it begs the question as to what else might come round again, be dusted down and find that its time is now?  What else might emerge from our collective circular economy of ideas to drive the circular economy of action we’re striving for in Scotland? I’m all ears.

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