Posted: 17 December 2015
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The EU’s new Circular Economy Package
The EU’s new Circular Economy Package

As the European Commission adopts a new Circular Economy Package, National Grid’s Stuart Bailey argues it’s the details that will ultimately determine its impact.

National Grid's London Power Tunnel project delivers financial savings and reduces our reliance on new materials.

"There is a real opportunity here to unlock financial savings and improve the resilience and competitiveness of our economy."

Stuart Bailey, National Grid’s Head of Sustainability & Climate Change.

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Stuart Bailey, National Grid’s Head of Sustainability & Climate Change.

At National Grid, we are convinced that there are significant financial and environmental benefits to be gained from being really efficient with the resources that we use.  The principles of a circular economy have the potential to be an extremely effective way of driving this resource efficiency, at local and international levels and across different industry sectors.

Last week, the EU Commission adopted a new Circular Economy Package to help European businesses and consumers make the transition to a stronger and more circular economy where resources are used in a more sustainable way. This Package provides a good start in terms of setting the ambition for resource efficiency that goes beyond just minimising waste to landfill.

National Grid has made a head start in developing projects that follow these principles.  For example, we’re working with Midal Cables to reprocess old aluminium conductors to make new ones; we’ve re-used 400,000 tonnes of clay from our London Power Tunnel project at gas holder remediation sites in London; and we’ve been recycling and recovering material from old meters for a number of years.  Each of these projects delivers financial savings and reduces our reliance on new materials. But each has been a challenge in overcoming the current regulations and incentives, which have done little to encourage us to do more.

So, this new Package is to be welcomed.  However, there is still plenty of opportunity to go further.  We would welcome clearer standards for the quality of secondary materials. We would also welcome the establishment of markets for these secondary materials, as well as more coherent rules governing when they don’t need to be classified as ‘waste’ and can be reused.

If our suppliers are to re-use material without compromising the high levels of reliability required of our energy networks, we need to know that it is fit for purpose and have access to it.  The most cost effective and environmentally beneficial use of our ‘old’ aluminium conductors is to re-use them elsewhere as conductors – but there is no market as such for ‘old’ conductor and no standards that apply.  There is a real opportunity here to unlock financial savings and improve the resilience and competitiveness of our economy.

So, the Commission needs to build on the good high-level objectives and principles it set out last week in its Circular Economy Package. It needs to make sure  that the detail of its proposals on product design and quality standards, as well as on waste classification, will help genuinely drive resource efficiency across all parts of the European economy – and make this package a long-term success.

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