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The social benefits of a circular economy: lessons from the UK

Why is a circular economy good for people?

It isn’t just business and the environment that benefit from the circular economy. Good policy, that makes products easier to repair and longer lasting with incentives to take old products back, can cut unemployment and save people money.

The circular economy can reduce unemployment where it is high‌ Expanding the circular economy could create 205,000 new jobs in the UK alone. Because it can address labour market skill gaps and regional unemployment, 54,000 of these jobs could be net jobs by 2030, bringing people back into employment.1 Other EU countries could reap similar benefits.

Unemployment rate in UK regions, June-August 2014

Net job creation in circular economy activity to 2030 at current growth rate, as a percentage of labour force

Scotland 5.5%

Scotland 0.07% North East 9.3%

North West 6.7% Wales 6.5% West Midlands 7.5% South West 4.6%

Yorkshire & the Humber 7%

North West 0.24% (8,474 jobs)

East Midlands 5.5%

Wales 0.23%

East England 4.9%

West Midlands 0.39% (10,659 jobs)

London 6.6% South East 4.7%

North East 0.54% (6,948 jobs) Yorkshire & the Humber 0.30% (7,978 jobs) East Midlands 0.08% East England 0.01% London 0.12%

‌ and provide work at all skill levels in the labour market

Circular economy job creation potential by skill type1

UK unemployment rate by skill type 20142

Activity Higher value, closed loop recycling


Lower value, open loop recycling

8% 7.9%

Servitisation (services instead of products)



4% 3.6%




0 Low skilled




Low skilled



The circular economy is lucrative By recovering value from items that would otherwise go to waste, the circular economy improves resource productivity and competitiveness. The most value comes from keeping things in working order. In the UK, electronic and electrical goods are worth 50 per cent more if they are sold for reuse rather than recycling. However, only 23 per cent are suitable for reuse and only two per cent are currently reused.3 Reuse and parts harvesting are much more valuable than recycling4 New phone

Product price £599

New phone

Second-hand phone Second-hand phone

Product price £599

Price if reused £290

Price if reused £290

Parts £170

Parts £170

Parts £188

Parts £188

Materials £1.50

Materials £1.50 Materials £0.72 Finished products are worth much more than the raw materials inside them

Materials £0.72

Parts in a broken phone are worth nearlyone third of the original value of the device

Finished products are worth much more are worth Finished products much Parts in amore broken phone Parts are worth in a broken nearlyphone are worth nearly than the raw materialsthan inside them the raw materials inside onethem third of the originalone value third of of the the device original value of the device

Good design enables easy repair Apparently similar devices have very different levels of repairability5

LG G4 2015

HTC One 2013



ifixit repairability rating

ifixit repairability rating

Time to repair 10 minutes

Time to repair 90 minutes

Low risk of damage during repair

High risk of damage during repair

+ Rear panel battery can be removed with no tools + Many components are modular and can be replaced independently -- LCD is fused to the glass

+ Solid external construction improves durability -- Virtually impossible to open without extreme damage to rear case -- Battery is buried under motherboard and adhered to midframe

The sale of products for reuse and remanufacture supports more jobs6

Reuse and remanufacture High value is retained by keeping the original design and function of products

8-20 jobs (per thousand tonnes of products)

Recycle Moderate value is retained by recapturing raw materials to make new products

5-10 jobs (per thousand tonnes of material)

Landfilling is a waste of valuable products and materials...

Landfill Value is lost when materials and products are thrown away, costing consumers over ÂŁ100 per tonne

0.1 jobs (per thousand tonnes of waste)

Consumers want more repairable products

The proportion of laptops replaced in Germany because they were broken shot up from seven per cent in 2007 to 27 per cent in 2013, whereas the number of Germans who replaced their laptop simply for a better model fell from 56 per cent to 25 per cent over the same period.7

Qualitative research for the UK’s Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs shows that consumers are “annoyed” when devices don’t last as long as expected, and they found that getting devices repaired was “too difficult.”8

How the EU can help Good policy can ensure better quality products that stay in use for longer New secondary materials markets

Producer responsibility policy prioritising reuse and supporting secondary materials markets Ecodesign policy

more reusable more recyclable

The EU’s circular economy policy package has the potential to improve the design of products and ensure that producers reuse and recycle more. Keeping valuable resources circulating in the economy supports the market for secondary products and materials across all regions, which could create new jobs in areas of high unemployment. It also satisfies consumer demand for better, longer lasting products. An efficient circular economy will increase resource productivity and resilience, and it will help Europe to stay competitive in a world of rising demand for materials.

Sources 1. Green Alliance/WRAP, 2015, Employment and the circular economy: job creation in a more resource efficient Britain 2. Calculation based on data in: Green Alliance/WRAP, 2015, Employment and the circular economy: job creation in a more resource efficient Britain 3. Analysis by WRAP of the reuse potential of WEEE taken to Household Waste Recycling Centres, www.wrap. WEEE%20HWRC%20summary%20 report.pdf 4. Green Alliance, 2015, A circular economy for smart devices 5. Ifixit:; and, Guide/HTC+One+Display+Assembly+R eplacement/19277 6. Adapted from: Green Alliance, 2014, More jobs, less carbon: why we need landfill bans 7. Oeko-Institut, 2015, Influence of the service life of products in terms of their environmental impact: establishing an information base and developing strategies against “obsolescence” 8. Brook Lyndhurst, 2011, Public understanding of product lifetimes and durability (1) - A research report completed for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Green Alliance Green Alliance is a charity and independent think tank focused on ambitious leadership for the environment. We have a track record of over 35 years, working with the most influential leaders from the NGO, business, and political communities. Our work generates new thinking and dialogue, and has increased political action and support for environmental solutions in the UK. Green Alliance 36 Buckingham Palace Road, London, SW1W 0RE 020 7233 7433 blog: twitter: @GreenAllianceUK The Green Alliance Trust is a registered charity 1045395 and company limited by guarantee (England and Wales) 3037633, registered at the above address Published by Green Alliance, August 2015 Designed by Howdy

© Green Alliance, 2015 Green Alliance’s work is licensed under a Creative Commons AttributionNoncommercial-No derivative works 3.0 unported licence. This does not replace copyright but gives certain rights without having to ask Green Alliance for permission. Under this licence, our work may be shared freely. This provides the freedom to copy, distribute and transmit this work on to others, provided Green Alliance is credited as the author and text is unaltered. This work must not be resold or used for commercial purposes. These conditions can be waived under certain circumstances with the written permission of Green Alliance. For more information about this licence go to by-nc-nd/3.0/

The social benefits of a circular economy  

This infographic shows the social benefits of a more circular economy and how EU policy to improve design standards and promote a secondary...

The social benefits of a circular economy  

This infographic shows the social benefits of a more circular economy and how EU policy to improve design standards and promote a secondary...