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Circular Economy: stick or twist?

Keynote Plenary – Wednesday 3rd July

Dr. David Tompkins

While the water sector in the UK has only started to get to grips with the Circular Economy (CE) over the past couple of years, its peers in the waste sector have seized the initiative and invested to transform themselves into resource collectors, sorters, processers and brokers. (They also continue to provide a series of end of pipe solutions for resources that can’t currently be returned to economic use). This is all well and good, but the problem we now find ourselves with is that CE and recycling have become synonymous, and some are starting to question the validity of CE approaches and look for different ways to bring our economies back within planetary boundaries. This is all a bit unfortunate for water, as we still haven’t really agreed what we think the CE is or how it could apply in our sector – whilst we are (fundamentally) already delivering across all three pillars of the circular economy: Eliminate, Circulate and Regenerate. Even in the absence of applicable recycling or circularity targets, the water sector finds itself in a position to lead CE thinking and delivery in the UK. So, do we stick with CE as a concept or twist and shift in a different direction? David will explore the implications of this in a plenary that’s likely to range from flooding to animal feed to nuts.

Dr. David Tompkins

David is an environmental scientist with a multi-disciplinary background including horticulture, soil science, composting, anaerobic digestion, wastewater treatment, biowaste and bioresource valorisation, sustainability, and market development. He represented CIWM on both the EA Sludge Strategy and WaterUK / CIWEM Bioresources Strategy initiatives and is both a Trustee of the British Society of Soil Science and incoming Chair of the Society’s Professional Practice and Development Committee. David joined WSP’s Water Strategic Advisory team in 2023 to bring the Circular Economy (CE) to life within the UK’s regulated water sector. The CE principles of eliminate, circulate, and regenerate are relevant to the whole urban water cycle – and David is working on a number of initiatives to help clients understand and capitalise on the opportunities that this produces.

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