Environmental guidance for your business in Northern Ireland & Scotland

Towards a Circular Economy

The successful business of the future is one that has reduced waste, reduced energy use, reduced water use and has reduced its carbon emissions. This topic provides an overview of what businesses can do now to head in this direction and contribute to a more sustainable economy.

Relevant Business Topics:

All Business Topics

Additional resources


Case Study Video: How to Reduce Carbon Emissions From Your Business

What is the circular economy?

In our existing economy,

  • we take resources from the ground, air and water
  • we make them into products and structures
  • then we dispose of them.

  linear v circular economy

In a circular economy

  • we get as much value as possible from the resources that we use
  • we return nutrients to the soil and ensure on-going productivity
  • we minimise value lost by reducing landfill and incineration (preventing ‘leakage from the economy’).

We have made a lot of progress in reducing the amount of waste we dispose of, by segregating wastes and recycling them.  We are also making progress in the use of resources, by looking at energy, water and materials efficiency.

For example, we mine aluminium ore, smelt it into aluminium and manufacture drink cans and other products. Many of these products are used once, and then disposed of. Recycling rates are improving, and the manufacturing process is using less aluminium, but there is still a loss of materials, mainly to landfill. This means more aluminium needs to be mined and smelted. If all aluminium could be retained from goods that were designed to be reused or taken apart when they reach the end of their useful life, this would significantly reduce the need for primary extraction.

This is an example of what is meant by the circular economy.

This guideline explains what actions you can take to support the shift in focus from making improvements to existing manufacturing methods, to creating new methods of design and manufacture that will help to move us towards a circular economy.

Benefits to our economy

  • creates new business opportunities
  • creates new jobs
  • increases resilience to global material scarcities
  • reduces waste to landfill

In the following sections, this guideline also explains how taking these actions can benefit your business.

Further information

Using fewer resources for sustainable development

The first priority in a more circular economy is to avoid unnecessary waste and use fewer resources in the first instance.

There is evidence that in terms of the UK’s footprint we use the equivalent of 2.9 planets to provide the resources we use and to absorb the waste we produce.

This demand is already placing the environment under pressure.

A more circular approach should:

  • minimise the resources required in producing goods and services
  • minimise waste
  • use recycled materials.

How this can benefit your business

  • reduces your manufacturing costs
  • reduces your cost of waste disposal to landfill
  • increases your competitiveness
  • reduces your impact on the environment.

What you can do

Take the first steps on your cost saving journey to resource efficiency

Review your processes

Reduce your waste

Reduce your food waste

Contribute to relevant UK Voluntary Agreements

Use advice about resource efficiency and free practical help from a range of organisations.

  • Other topics covered in this guide (design, reuse, repair and remanufacture) will also contribute to waste prevention, helping to ensure the economy can grow without increasing our resource use.

Further information

RES: Make a Resource Efficiency Pledge today

RES: Resource efficiency case studies

Zero Waste Scotland: Love Food hate waste

WRAPNI: case studies – waste prevention

WRAPNI: see pages about waste prevention & minimisation

WRAPNI: Love food hate waste

Recycling and beyond

Landfilling materials, which are no longer fit for purpose or which we no longer want, means those materials are effectively lost from our society. We are not getting maximum value from them.

We need to rethink our approach to how goods are supplied, how they are used and what happens at the end of a product’s life. We need to keep materials, components and products in use (in a high value state) for as long as possible.

This way of thinking applies to how we manage our food wastes and other bio-based resources and wastes. This includes anaerobic digestion, composting or bio-refining. These enable the recirculation of nutrients, whilst avoiding harmful greenhouse gases.  Some of these technologies can be sued to produce energy. To further support the transition to a circular economy we need to increase the proportion of bio-based wastes used for the production of high value materials and chemicals.

VIDEO - Celtic Renewables: Biobutane

How this can benefit your business

  • reduces your cost of waste disposal to landfill
  • reduces your impact on the environment
  • increases your competitiveness.

What you can do

Find the highest value market for your unwanted materials, components and products and prioritise reuse, then repair, then remanufacturing before recycling:




  • Segregate your materials to get best value
  • Prevent contamination
  • Keep any electrical or electronic equipment dry



Further information

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation was established in 2010 with the aim of accelerating the transition to a circular economy. Their system diagram below illustrates the continuous flow of technical and biological materials through the ‘value circle’:

Sustainability by design

The design of a product, process or system and the design of a business model determines how efficiently materials can be used and how effectively they can be kept circulating in the economy. Up to 80% of a product’s environmental impact is determined at the design stage; this includes how easily something can be repaired or recycled.

How design can benefit your business

  • brings new business opportunities and generates new income
  • enhances brand reputation
  • develops long term customer supplier relationships, for example where you recover products / materials for repair and reuse or where you provide a service based on delivering performance
  • reduces the consumption of raw materials
  • reduces the risk of resource shortages and the consequential increase in their cost.

Product and process design

  • make waste prevention a key design criterion
  • design out non-renewable materials; use bio-based products as an alternative to fossil-fuel products
  • design in recyclable materials
  • can you make your product more simply, cutting the number and amount of materials? Ensure building designs consider waste reduction in both new build and refurbishment
  • design products for a longer lifetime and which are supported by a guarantee and trusted repair services
  • design products ready to be disassembled, economically repaired and eventually recycled;
  • design buildings for reuse and recycling
  • packaging design and use - make sure you use as little packaging as possible to achieve an adequate level of protection for your products, and that packaging can be reused or recycled
  • consider taking back products at end of life, to refurbish for a new marketplace, to recover valuable materials, or to recycle.

What you can do: Business Model / System / Service design

Instead of basing your business on product sales there are alternative business models that would enable you to retain the value in products and materials and keep them circulating in the economy - for example, servicing and / or repairing goods before returning them to the original or secondary market. You could:

  • hire or lease your product – see case study Edinburgh City Car Club
  • provide a service based on delivering the performance outputs of a product – see the case study: Juice
  • offer a financial incentive for the return of the ‘used’ products – see the case study: Re-tek
  • sharing products between members of the public or businesses, known as peer to peer models
  • share resources such as best practice guides, tool kits, reports and videos – see the EAUC Sustainability Exchange
  • BSI has created a free briefing on the newly developed BS 8001:2007 standard. This aims to help businesses take steps to develop a more circular approach to their activities.

    bsi: Executive briefing: BS 8001 – a guide

Further information

Forum for the future: The Circular Economy Business Model Toolkit

Zero Waste Scotland: Encouraging the development of new circular economy solutions in Scotland

Ellen MacArthur Foundation: Resources for Circular Economy


The concept of reuse is well understood at a community level and the practice is widespread for domestic goods. However, to support the transition to a circular economy, the practice needs to be adopted more widely at a business and industry level.

Reuse is about enabling a material or product to continue being used for its original purpose even though it has become surplus to your needs – simply by changing the owner. Doing this retains the inherent value of the materials and requires no reprocessing of the product. This makes it a better option for the environment than recycling, which involves breaking the product down and remaking the same thing or producing something else.

By re-using materials and goods we are reducing the use of virgin materials and energy; and the air and water pollution associated with the extraction (e.g. mining, quarrying and logging), processing and manufacture of raw materials.

How this can benefit your business

  • cuts your disposal costs and generates revenues
  • reduces your impact on the environment
  • provides a practical demonstration of your green credentials
  • enhances your reputation.

What you must do

What you can do

  • prioritise reuse in your procurement policy – buy from an accredited reuse supplier
  • make your surplus items available for reuse, for example through online exchanges such as freecyle groups Northern Ireland or Freecycle groups Scotland
  • see our guide Reusing waste which provides a range of ideas about how to reuse within your own business e.g. furniture; IT equipment and carpet and how to donate materials for reuse by other organisations
  • if you sell second hand goods in Scotland, become a Revolve accredited business - Revolve is a reuse quality standard, which demonstrates your commitment to quality and improvement.

Further information


In recent years, the repair of goods has reduced for a number of reasons, such as cheaper products, the pace of technological change and the complexity of products. But repair is an essential part of moving to a circular economy. Repair must once again become convenient and cost-effective. Both manufacturers and users can support repair.

If you are a manufacturer

How supporting repair or providing a repair service can benefit your business

  • adds value to your business’ offer to customers
  • generates new revenue streams
  • enhances your brand loyalty
  • enables your customer to reduce material and other input costs
  • enables your customer to gain greater value from their own materials and products.

What you must do

What you can do

  • design products for a longer lifetime and which are supported by a guarantee and trusted repair services
  • design products ready to be disassembled and economically repaired
  • provide or set up a repair service e.g. Nudie Jeans – a global repair service for jeans
  • cut your costs by borrowing / sharing repair tools e.g. Edinburgh Tool Library.

If you are buying goods or have an item needing repair

What you can do

  • before buying new, check for a local repair service - find someone locally (search online or look in your phonebook). For bigger repair jobs use a reputable local tradesman
  • include in your procurement policy criteria about purchasing repaired products and about purchasing products that can be repaired
  • learn repair skills and work in partnership to campaign for goods to be built to last through Remade Edinburgh
  • cut your costs by borrowing / sharing repair tools e.g. Edinburgh Tool Library.


Remanufacturing extends the life and usefulness of materials by returning a used product to at least its original performance with a warranty that is equivalent to or better than that of the new product.

This process involves dismantling the product, restoring and replacing components and testing the individual parts and the finished product to ensure that it is within its original design specifications. The price of remanufactured products is typically lower than the price of a comparable new product.

Remanufacturing is not new in the UK and is common in aerospace, automotive parts, energy and rail industries. Some businesses that produce remanufactured goods also produce new goods.

How this can benefit your business

Operating a remanufacturing business can:

  • reduce supply risks of your raw materials (up to 85% of the weight of a remanufactured product is from used parts)
  • improve your resource efficiency (between 50-80% less energy is used remanufacturing a product)
  • bring greater levels of profit than manufacturing new products
  • enhance your environmental performance by preventing landfill and getting maximum value from resources.    

Purchasing remanufactured goods can:

  • cost you less than an entirely new product
  • enhance your environmental performance by supporting the growing remanufacturing market.

What you must do

What you can do

As a manufacturer you can:

  • design products that can be disassembled easily
  • develop a mechanism to incentivise the return of used products
  • develop a business model for leasing products.

As a consumer you can:

  • include in your procurement policy the requirement to preferentially purchase remanufactured products
  • consider leasing products instead of purchasing them.

Further information

Invest NI: Operate more efficiently

Scottish Institute for Remanufacturing

Scottish Manufacturing Advisory Service


Re-using, repairing and remanufacturing help to get maximum value from waste materials and products. Recycling retains less of the value. However, recycling plays an important role in the circular economy.

Traditional recycling produces items that are of a lower value and quality than the original item or material, when it may be known as ‘downcycling’.  A typical example is plastic, which when recycled is turned into a lower grade plastic.

There is now a growing trend to ‘upcycle’, which means changing an unwanted or discarded item into something with a higher value and quality than the original item e.g. upcycling shoe boxes into storage containers; turning a step ladder into a shelf; or painting a piece of furniture.

How recycling can benefit your business

  • prevents the waste of potentially useful materials
  • reduce our need for conventional waste disposal (landfill and incineration).

What you must do

You must comply with your Duty of Care for waste:

You must comply with special requirements for recycling certain wastes, such as:

  • batteries that contain harmful chemicals and metals - these are classified as hazardous waste
  • electrical and electronic equipment
  • fridges and air-conditioning equipment containing F-gases or ozone-depleting substances
  • end-of-life vehicles (ELVs) - you must send ELVs for dismantling and depollution, and recycle any component parts
  • packaging - you must comply with certain requirements if you produce packaged products, or place packaging or packaged goods on the market.

Recycling good practice

  • buy products that can be recycled. Only 7.5 per cent of all office waste, including paper, is recycled but 70 per cent could potentially be recycled.
  • separate waste that can be recycled from other waste and avoid contamination. A high quality of recyclate is required to enable more materials to be returned to the same use. See NetRegs page about your Duty of Care with respect to separate collection of waste:
  • New duties for businesses in Northern Ireland
  • New duties for businesses in Scotland
  • check the cost of recycling. It could be much less than sending your waste for energy recovery or disposal. Find out if your local authority provides recycling collections at low or no cost.
  • if you deliver waste services see the guidance: SEPA: Encourage your customers to recycle
  • sell high-quality recyclable materials, for example construction materials. There are an increasing number of uses for recycled materials.
  • check price information and quality specifications for a wide range of products. These can include compost, glass, metals, paper and board, plastics, textiles and wood: letsrecycle.com

Further information

Attend an ’upcycling’ workshop: Upcycled World

Recycle for Scotland: Find your local recycling facilities

Resource Efficient Scotland: Find recycling services in your area

NI Direct: Recycling and reusing

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