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Highlights from CIRCULÉIRE’s (Hybrid) Conference at the 2021 National Manufacturing & Supply Chain Expo

Highlights from CIRCULÉIRE’s (Hybrid) Conference at the 2021 National Manufacturing & Supply Chain Expo

Our conference reinforced how circular economy is a key tool in Ireland’s decarbonization strategy

On the 24th of November 2021, CIRCULÉIRE held its annual conference “Accelerating the transition to a Circular Economy” as part of the National Manufacturing & Supply Chain Expo at RDS Simmonscourt, Dublin. The half-day event reinforced how circular economy is a key tool in Ireland’s decarbonisation strategy.

CIRCULÉIRE’s strategic partners and network members shared insights into how they are embedding circular economy principles into policy-making and putting it into practice in their organizations. The conference was structured around three themes:

  • The Circular Economy Policy Landscape post COP26;
  • Industry Perspectives on Circular Drivers, Challenges and Opportunities
  • and Circular Innovation Insights.

Maurice O’Connell, Chief Operating Officer at Irish Manufacturing Research – CIRCULÉIRE’s secretariat – opened the event acknowledging the circular economy challenge and how CIRCULÉIRE’s network members are visionary for embracing this path:

“Closing the circularity gap c. €2bn annual prize is easy to say but it needs coordination. CIRCULÉIRE is seeking to build knowledge and capacity as well as address circular economy implementation gaps, not just conversations but practical implementation”, said Maurice. “It is very easy to wait for legislation regulation, but our industry members are pioneers, and they are doing the hard job. These companies are actively trying to change their business not because they have to do it, but because they believe it is the right thing to do. We are delighted to work with them” – Maurice O’Connell, COO, IMR.

Below are some highlights from the discussion from our conference and you can also watch the conference recording on IMR’s Youtube channel.

Theme 1: The Circular Economy Policy Landscape post COP26

Leslie Carberry, Principle Officer who heads up the Circular Economy Unit in the Department for the Environment, Climate Action and Communications (DECC) opened up the discussion with his presentation on “Making Ireland’s Circular Economy transition happen” and highlighted the Government of Ireland’s commitment to this agenda:

  • A Whole-of-Government Circular Economy Strategy (due to be published in the coming weeks) and is a key deliverable of the Waste Action Plan for a Circular Economy (2020) which will seek to set the trajectory for Ireland’s transition towards circularity and ambition to have circular economy embedded systemically in our economy by 2030.
  • Moreover, the Circular Economy Bill which was announced earlier this year (2021) and is currently being drafted by the Department for Environment, Climate and Communications and going through pre-legislative scrutiny. The Circular Economy bill will a provide legislative basis for the circular economy strategy which is important because once the bill is enacted, the government will be under a legal obligation to have a circular economy policy in place.

Leslie Carberry also highlighted that the transition to circularity has environmental, economic, and strategic imperatives:

“As we look towards the next decade and beyond that, one of the challenges for companies but also countries will be competition for an increasingly scarce amount of raw materials. So being able to adapt to the circular economy, being able to close material loops, relying on shorter, more sustainable supply chains is not just an environmental issue. It is not just an economic issue, but it is also a strategic issue. And those companies and businesses that can adopt a circular economy and will have a competitive advantage in the years to come” – Leslie Carberry, Principle Officer, DECC.

Next up was Mary Frances Rochford, Programme Manager of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) who presented an  “Overview of the EPA’s Circular Economy Programme” where she highlighted the waste challenges Ireland has encountered over the last two decades and noted the shift from a focus on landfill, incineration and recycling as the dominant waste treatment processes to circular economy principles – emphasising waste prevention and the overall shift from waste management to resource management:

“We will reconfigure the existing National Waste Prevention Programme to make it Ireland’s Circular Economy Programme, Led by the EPA, it will have a designated coordinating role to support the Department’s Circular Economy Unit in overseeing national, regional and local activities to improve coherence and alignment of national and local activities and ensure maximum impact” – Mary Frances Rochford, Programme Manager, EPA.

The third keynote in this panel was Dr Andy Kerr, UK & Ireland Lead for EIT Climate-KIC who shared his experience from EIT Climate-KIC’s work across Europe to “Build the enabling conditions for the circular economy to thrive highlighting that a portfolio of interventions is needed to support the transition to circularity: 

“Our approach to this model for circular economy for materials is very much about using a portfolio of interventions across the globe of relevant levers of change for that particular system to drive change. And these then are thinking about how do we build new markets? How do we create the new business models, the new funding and finance models and create new industrial value chains, that localised value within Ireland, so that we can actually capture the economic benefits of doing this whole change? And at the same time on the social side, the just transition side, we are working on how to ensure that those people who are economically dependent on fossil fuel and fossil fuel supply chains are supported to transition away from that…” – Andy Kerr, UK & Ireland Lead, EIT Climate KIC.

Theme 2: Circular Drivers, Challenges & Opportunities: Industry Perspectives

CIRCULÉIRE’s Network Industry Members from the pharmaceutical (Hovione), food (Dawn Meats) and consumer electronics (WEEE Ireland and The Zeronet) reflected on the circular drivers, barriers, and opportunities they are encountering on their journey from linear to circular economy models.

Austin Geraghty​, Global Health, Safety & Sustainability Snr Director of Hovione reflected on “Hovione’s Sustainability Journey and the Challenge of the Circular Economy”, the role of carbon foot printing and waste and carbon reduction target setting.  Austin emphasised the complexities associated with implementing circularity in the pharmaceutical sector given the new capabilities for example to re-use solvents and associated regulatory and supply-chain challenges which need to be overcome:

“Circular economy is complex. For Hovione, it is about processing markets and regulations. Embedding this requires internally and externally in alignments and that takes time” – Austin Geraghty​, Hovione.

Brian Cloonan, General Manager, Western Proteins & By products recovery, Dawn Meats spoke about Sustainability and Circular Economy “Opportunities and Challenges” in the context Agri-Food sector and highlighted the need for proactive thinking to enable the better utilisation of resources to shift from linear models to circularity:

“Dawn Meats joined CIRCULEIRE to help and participate in the structuring of a framework for Circular Manufacturing. We hope this model can inspire other companies to adopt circular economy to their business […]. We all are aware of the commitment made during CO26 and this is the challenges we face together” – Brian Cloonan, General Manager, Dawn Meats.

Brian Cloonan also briefly introduced Dawn Meats’ “SUCCESS” project (funded by the CIRCULÉIRE 2021 Innovation Fund) which recently kicked off with the aim to demonstrate a better and more constructive utilisation of waste animal by-products (to deliver the energy demands of the core business and enable trace element recovery) in collaboration with BHSL and the University of Limerick.

Elizabeth O’Reilly​, Head of Environmental Compliance & Membership​, WEEE Ireland reflected on “Circular Opportunities in meeting the E-Waste challenge” and highlighted the fact that tackling the e-waste challenge requires an #allactorsapproach (a phrase coined by the WEEEForum) – ranging from producers, retailers, en-users, recyclers, producer responsibility organisations, local authorities, brokers, scrap dealers, reuse organisations, repair organisations, enforcement authorities and to Environmental Protection Agencies.

“The challenge we face dealing with industry e-waste is immense, so we cannot do it alone. WEEE Ireland, industry members, importers and supply-chain need to work together, it is our responsibility. As a member of CIRCULÉIRE, we need to show what we are doing to reduce our carbon footprint” – Elizabeth O’Reilly​, Head of Environmental Compliance & Membership​, WEEE Ireland.

Elizabeth O’Reilly also provided an overview of the support from CIRCULÉIRE to develop WEEE Ireland’s circular economy vision and strategy and how they are transitioning from a recycling EPR Scheme to a Circular Economy Scheme.

Paul McSweeney​, Founder & CEO​ of The ZeroNet​​ spoke about how “The circular economy needs a whole new operating system” and introduced   The ZeroNet. Paul highlighted that circular logistics are different to reverse logistics and the ZeroNet’s USP is about enabling convenient take-back from household doorsteps which enables greater re-use, repair, and higher quality recycling.

“From our perspective, there is no such thing as waste, only ‘scattered inventory’. The ZeroNet is the first holistically designed circular logistics operating system dedicated to the creation, deployment and scaling of zero-wate and ultimately circular forms of consumption” – Paul McSweeney​, Founder & CEO, The ZeroNet.

Theme 3: Circular Innovation Insights from the CIRCULÉIRE Delivery Team in IMR

CIRCULÉIRE’s team and IMR’s specialists shared circular innovation insights from CIRCULÉIRE’s own work as well as how we leverage opportunities from complementary research & innovation projects.

  • Sophie Reynolds​, Circular Economy Technologist​, IMR, reflected on “Circular Innovation Opportunities & Sectoral Best Practice” emerging from CIRCULÉIRE’s 2021 Thematic Working Groups on Circular Packaging & Reusables, Circular Plastics and Circular Design as well providing a sneak preview of the insights from CIRCULÉIRE’s forthcoming sectoral guide series – ranging from circular business models to circular processes and circular materials – which will be kicking off with a focus on the Construction Sector and followed by guides related to the Food and Drinks; Agri-Food and Circular Bioeconomy; Fashion and Textiles; Electronics and Circular ICT.
  • Dr Mohamed Abokersh​, Senior Circular Economy Researcher, IMR, introduced “CIRCULÉIRE’s Circular Maturity Toolkit” which an online self-assessment tool developed by IMR for industry to help companies understand the steps and internal capabilities required to transition from a linear to a circular business model. CIRCULÉIRE’s Maturity Assessment is a simple but powerful online tool that enables businesses to explore 5 key capabilities (Strategy, Culture, Collaboration, Innovation & Circularity) necessary to transition to a circular business model and provides insights into how to improve your circular economy performance. Key benefits of the tool highlighted were: creating a baseline of circular maturity, benchmarking performance, gaining recommendations for improving circularity and developing a shared language and dialogue around what circular economy means for your business. This online toolkit was launched to market during the 2021 Manufacturing & Supply-Chain Expo which took place over the 23rd-24th November 2021.
  • Dr Damian Coughlan​, Senior Circular Economy Researcher, IMR, spoke about “CircThread: Building the digital thread for the Circular Economy” which is a Horizon 2020 funded project with the aim of developing an open-source digital platform that makes it possible for manufacturing companies to collect, utilize and securely share data about the different phases of a product’s full life cycle focused on the White Goods sector.The CircThread consortium encompasses 31 partners from 12 European countries with €9M in funding over 4 years. The CircThread project will develop 3 pilot programs in Slovenia, Spain, and Italy.

Wrapping up the conference, Dr Geraldine Brennan, CIRCULÉIRE’s Lead and Head of Circular Economy at IMR provided an overview of the keyways CIRCULÉIRE supports industry to transition to a net-zero circular economy – namely through Awareness Raising, Knowledge Sharing (Annual Thematic Working Groups) & Policy Engagement (Townhalls on Public Consultations like the All of Government Circular Economy Strategy and support to engage with Sectoral Roadmap Implementation), Capacity Building, Demonstrators & New Ventures (ring-fenced Innovation Fund), Ecosystem Collaboration (DECC Waste Advisory Group; NSAI/ISO Circular Economy Working Groups, OECD Policy Dialogues and as Ireland’s first dedicated EU Circular Economy Hotspot).

If you want to know more about CIRCULÉIRE and how we can support your organisation capture circular advantage, please contact us: circuleire@imr.ie.

In case you missed it, you still have the chance to watch the recording of CIRCULÉIRE’s 2021 Circular Economy Conference here.


CIRCULÉIRE is Ireland’s first dedicated EU Hotspot for the circular economy part of the Holland Circular Hotspot global network and is a public-private partnership co-created by Irish Manufacturing Research (IMR) and three strategic partners: the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications (DECC), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and EIT Climate-KIC. Together with industry partners CIRCULÉIRE aims to assist manufacturers and their supply chains to switch from linear to circular business models.

Read more about CIRCULÉIRE here.

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