Unlocking the €2.3bn annual circular economy opportunity in Ireland

The circular economy may be in its relative infancy in Ireland, but a new initiative aimed at enabling Irish Industry to capitalise on resources is about to change all of that

Dr Geraldine Brennan, the IMR’s senior circular economy programme manager

Behind the scenes, Irish Manufacturing Research (IMR), a leading research and technology organisation, has spent over two years designing and developing a programme based on cross-sectoral collaboration to help Irish industry transition to the concept of circular economy.

The fruits of IMR’s work will be unveiled this month by Eamon Ryan, TD, Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications as CIRCULÉIRE, a new national platform that sets out in plain and simple terms the value in moving away from a linear take-make-waste economy to a more circular and regenerative approach decoupling economic growth from resource use.

“CIRCULÉIRE is the first cross-sectoral industry-led innovation network dedicated to accelerating the net-zero carbon circular economy in Ireland,” said Dr Geraldine Brennan, the IMR’s senior circular economy programme manager.

“It is a €4.5 million public-private partnership co-created by IMR and three strategic partners – the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications (DECC), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and EIT Climate-KIC (EIT CKIC). We have 25 founding industry members involved and the network is growing.”

David McCormack, the IMR’s director for sustainable manufacturing

“Our members stem from the pharmaceutical, medical devices, chemicals, built environment, agri-food and packaging sectors,” said Brennan. “They also include actors which we refer to as ‘second life enablers’, meaning they provide the economies of scale or infrastructure (both physical and digital) to keep goods in productive use in the economy for longer.

“CIRCULÉIRE is about taking Irish industry on a journey towards understanding how to transition from a linear to a circular business model and we are starting with the manufacturing sector because it represents around 25 per cent of Ireland’s GDP and as such can be a role model for the transition across the entire economy.”

Circularity capacity building and knowledge sharing are key to CIRCULÉIRE and the programme’s website contains information on circular economies, how they work and why they are so important – including being home to the largest open-access circular economy knowledge library in Ireland with over 150 use-cases, sectoral and policy reports, and that is just the start.

“Everything we are doing is about looking at best practice internationally and bringing it to the Irish economy” said Brennan.

Circular principles seek to recover and preserve the embedded value in materials, components and products. Implementing innovative circular strategies and business models like remanufacturing and products-as-a-service – creates significant macro-economic, environmental, social and business benefits.

In an Irish context, the EPA estimates that annually we use 100 million tons of materials – where implementing a 5 per cent material improvement across the economy would represent an annual €2.32 billion opportunity. Moreover, valorising waste creates opportunities for import substitution and reinforces the economic benefits of regional supply chains to Irish companies.

This is a strategic imperative as Ireland continues to walk the ongoing Covid-19 recovery path – embedding circularity in Ireland’s economy can support job retention and contribute to new jobs.

While the concept of a circular economy is not new, it is making serious strides as a game-changer within global industries as many companies embrace a more restorative approach to how they design and produce. IMR, supported by Enterprise Ireland and IDA Ireland, is dedicated to helping Irish industry get started.

David McCormack, the IMR’s director for sustainable manufacturing, said the CIRCULÉIRE network is an extremely exciting initiative for mainstreaming the circular economy in Ireland.

“IMR’s remit is to de-mystify, de-risk and deliver emerging technologies and concepts like the circular economy. We recognised that there was a gap in innovation and implementation of this concept in Ireland, so we set about righting that with our industry-led initiative,” said McCormack.

“The circular economy concept is not a new concept. The Dutch would tell you they are practising it for 15 to 20 years, but its’ really become mainstream in Europe since the first Circular Economy Action Plan in 2015. Ireland is trailing – EU Eurostat figures has our circular material use rate at 1.6 per cent which is a long way off the European average of 11.7 per cent, so there is work to do to close this gap.”

In Ireland, the CIRCULÉIRE platform has a dedicated innovation fund to support the implementation of pilot projects which prove the value of the circular economy and contribute to de-risking Irish investments in circularity.

This initiative’s overarching objective between 2020-2022 is to source, test, finance and scale circular manufacturing systems, supply chains and circular business models to deliver significant reductions in both CO2 emissions and waste across industry membership over the programmes’ lifespan.

According to McCormack, the circular economy and the decarbonisation agenda go hand in hand. “Scaling circularity is pivotal to Ireland’s decarbonisation goal of halving overall greenhouse gas emissions across the economy by 51 per cent between 2021 and 2030 and achieving net zero emissions by 2050.”

Brennan said that Ireland is an exciting place to be in terms of the appetite for a circular economy across public and private partnerships. The Irish government has already committed to circular economy transition, not least in its Waste Action Plan for a Circular Economy, which was published in September and outlined the creation of a Circular Economy Unit, tasked with developing an all-of-government circular economy strategy.

To learn how your business can tap into the value that resides in an Irish circular economy visit CIRCULEIRE.ie