A new report from Green Alliance has found that transforming the UK’s approach to repair, reuse, recycling and remanufacture could create more than 450,000 jobs across the country by 2035 – and help the government define and deliver its ‘levelling up’ agenda .
The new research finds that transforming the UK’s ‘circular economy’ – where products and resources are kept in use at their highest value for as long as possible – could see more than 300,000 new jobs in remanufacturing and 30,000 in repair work within the next 15 years . A third of the projected total jobs would be in lower skilled occupations that currently see higher unemployment rates, while positions in skilled trades and administrative and procurement roles would also benefit. This could help to replace jobs lost to automation and offshoring.
With an ambitious approach, through investment in skills, infrastructure and innovation, the West Midlands and the North West would see significant growth in remanufacturing jobs . Recycling jobs could help challenge unemployment in Wales, alongside rental and leasing jobs in the South West and remanufacturing jobs in Yorkshire and the Humber. There could be opportunities for product designers in new remanufacturing departments in the North East, and for skilled repairers of machinery and electronics in the East Midlands.
Green Alliance has found, however, that creating lots of jobs, and more evenly, across the UK is dependent on government ambition. If the UK’s circular economy continues to develop at the existing rate (see note 1 below), Green Alliance projects that only 40,000 new jobs will be created across the country to 2035. Moreover, the South East and London would stand to gain a markedly higher share of these jobs than under a scenario where the approach to the circular economy was transformed. Boosting the circular economy would therefore support the government’s ‘levelling up’ vision, which has come under criticism in recent months .
Green Alliance is urging the Treasury to bring in a series of new policies to transform the circular economy and create jobs across the UK. These include an ambitious target to halve UK resource use by 2050; to increase consumer demand by zero rating VAT on repairs and refurbishment; and to support workers to move into the circular economy through retraining programmes and career coaching.
To demonstrate the value of the circular economy, a reused iPhone retains around 48 percent of its original value, but just 0.24 per cent as recycled material .
Zoe Avison from Green Alliance said:
“A big programme to avoid unnecessary waste and reclaim the value of materials would not only help consumers but create jobs in communities across the country. This is a great opportunity for the Chancellor to show his commitment to expanding innovation, and for the government to show the meaning of levelling up.”
Case study #1 – Renew shops and Hub, Greater Manchester
Waste and resources company Suez has partnered with Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) to open three ‘Renew’ shops, in Oldham, Salford and Trafford. The shops sell pre-loved household items – including furniture, hand tools and sports equipment – donated by residents at 15 recycling sites across the region. Based on the materials collected so far, an estimated 600 tonnes will be diverted from waste to recycling each year, saving energy, reducing emissions and supporting Greater Manchester’s target to be carbon neutral by 2038.
A ‘Renew Hub’ is also being developed in Trafford Park. This will include ‘repair pods’ for items to be repaired and upcycled, such as bikes and electrical and white goods. The Hub will look to employ and train local people and volunteers, and enhance skills and opportunities related to the green economy. The Hub will also supply the Renew shops with goods and provide a space for online sales. SUEZ will be working with charities and other businesses to run the pods.
The shops and Hub have thus far seen the creation of 10 green jobs with more anticipated. Further information, including on the money raised and social initiatives, can be found here.
Case study #2 – Reusing restaurant and pub kitchen equipment
Ramco UK is a company specialising in asset disposal, with an increasing focus on making sure goods and materials have a second life. This includes everything from dockside cranes to gym equipment. In 2020 the company grew by 20% in its headquarters of Skegness, and the company has signed contracts with businesses as diverse as Legoland and Mitchells and Butlers.
With the latter, who operate around 1,700 restaurants and pubs across the UK, including brands All Bar One, Harvester and Toby Carvery, Ramco UK has designed a programme to divert kitchen equipment from landfill. Kit deemed surplus to requirements is examined, cleaned, tested and serviced for use elsewhere. Equipment not fit for reuse and resale is stripped down for spare parts.
The partnership, which started in 2020, has already seen more than 200 pieces of surplus kit, including combi ovens, dishwashers and fryers find new homes in the catering and hospitality sector.
 Green Alliance, Levelling up through circular economy jobs, August 2021.
The report uses existing employment data to project growth in the circular economy by 2035 across three scenarios:
- a ‘business as usual’ approach, which assumes little progress on the status quo: a 17 per cent increase in recycling and no growth in remanufacturing or repair;
- a ‘growing potential’ scenario, where policy has been more ambitious and provided incentives for the private sector to increase recycling and boost remanufacturing;
- and a ‘transformation’, where there has been a move to a fully sustainable economy with growth in recycling and remanufacturing and major developments in servitisation and reuse.
 The job projections are based on analysis that takes the current number of jobs in circular economy activities across British regions and inflates them in line with different growth scenarios, assuming, as did the report in 2015, that the relationship between the size of the particular circular economy market and the number of jobs remains constant. The figures have been adjusted where appropriate to subtract jobs that are likely to be lost as a result of a more circular economy, mainly in material extraction and waste disposal.
 ‘Remanufacturing’ is a process whereby a product is returned to its original state or better, with a warranty to match.
 ‘Government's levelling up plans “need total reorientation”’, BBC News, 23 March 2021; ‘Boris Johnson’s speech on “levelling up” decried for lack of substance’, The Guardian, 15 July 2021.
 See Green Alliance, Levelling up through circular economy jobs, August 2021.