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Innovation opportunities from industrial waste revealed

New research on waste-to-resource opportunities in different industries has revealed key areas for companies to develop innovative approaches to using waste for new products and services.

New research on waste-to-resource opportunities in different industries has revealed key areas for companies to develop innovative approaches to using waste for new products and services.

The research was compiled by the Knowledge Transfer Network (KTN) over the course of a one-year investigation with stakeholders in the waste supply chain.

The resulting report seeks to stimulate innovation by highlighting future technology trends and opportunities for growth through the development of new processes, technologies and services using materials from industrial waste.

Waste transition

The UK waste sector is currently valued at over £11 billion and is in the process of transitioning to meet the new ‘waste-to-resource’ paradigm.

The report notes that innovation is required “to address the challenges involved in economically recovering valuable materials from waste as well as to keep up with the changing composition of [industrial] waste”.

Secondary resource streams from waste are increasingly providing local material feedstocks that mitigate against price volatility of virgin materials and increase security of supply.

The research identifies four key sector groups with opportunities to use waste materials:

  • Infrastructure systems, including transport, energy and construction
  • Manufacturing, reprocessing and materials
  • Emerging and enabling technologies, including electronics, digital applications, robotics and autonomous systems
  • Health, agri-food and life sciences

Construction

The construction sector is the biggest contributor to the UK’s waste stream, and despite recycling rates reaching 90 per cent, much of the waste is currently downcycled into lower value materials.

According to the report, opportunities for the sector include increasing offsite construction, which would significantly streamline waste in the construction process, and better mapping products and materials in buildings over their lifecycle.

Manufacturing

The report notes that productivity is a key concern for manufacturers, with the average manufacturer now spending five times more on non-labour costs than on labour. 

The sector should therefore focus on increasing resource productivity through circular economy approaches, including working with the waste supply chain to identify opportunities for using reprocessed materials, collect data on the properties of new materials and develop more innovative waste collection schemes. 

Other opportunities for the waste sector include providing digital marketplaces for locally-supplied waste products and materials, while ‘product passports’ developed with manufacturers could supply information on the composition of products through the supply chain. 

‘Global opportunity’

Nick Cliffe, lead technologist for resource efficiency at Innovate UK, said: “The business of recovering valuable materials from waste is a significant global opportunity that the UK seems well placed to benefit from.

“This work was designed to further develop the thinking of Innovate UK’s resource efficiency programme and explore with some of our key sectors the nature of their waste streams and the opportunities for innovation to maximise the value that can be recovered from them.”