The circular economy is a term which encourages change – put simply, “to rethink and redesign the way we make stuff”. It is an economic framework that is restorative and regenerative by design, which minimises the usage and wastage of finite supplies. This includes avoiding mass production of new resources and mass wastage (known as a linear economy). The circular economy instead promotes resource efficiency by considering businesses, society and the environment. The approach offers a positive solution to the climate crisis by recovering, recycling, and reusing renewable resources.

In 2020, the UK government announced a Circular Economy Package policy, outlining their commitment to moving towards a more circular economy. This is a small part of a much bigger push from the government to tackle the climate crisis, such as the 25 Year Environment Plan, the Resources and Waste Strategy, and the Clean Growth Strategy.

Similarly, the Scottish government shared their motivation to create a circular economy through their 2016 campaign: Making Things Last. Alongside this, last month, the Irish government started their plans for a circular economy strategy, while the Welsh government announced a circular recycling scheme in early March. Clearly, the intention to make changes is there across the British Isles.

AD’s Role in the Circular Economy

Many Anaerobic Digester (AD) owners, including us here at Ixora, find that AD’s primary descriptor is often ‘waste management.’ Even those with a greater understanding of AD and its function still tend to force the complex technology into a narrow definition.

“Since this technology by definition has application in many different sectors, AD is often grouped with other technologies under various labels – Energy from Waste, Renewables, Bioenergy, Biofuels – without a clear understanding of AD’s role at the heart of the circular economy and its enormous potential,” explains Charlotte Morton, Chief Executive at Anaerobic Digestion and Bioresources Association (ADBA).

In fact, AD’s importance is highlighted by its multifunctional ability which involves;

  • supporting food production companies in reducing and/or reusing their bi-product waste
  • working with farmers to repurpose their agricultural waste
  • providing farmers with high quality fertilizer for their crops (generated through waste products)
  • powering the National Grid and local communities with gas and electricity from biogas
  • returning biogas in the form of heat and electricity to suppliers of digestate
  • protecting local waterways and habitats from pollution as a result of organic waste.

Recently, more businesses and organisations have begun to realise AD’s potential. In their latest report on reaching Net Zero, the National Farmers Union (NFU) highlighted AD as a “key technology to meet its ambitious target”.

“AD has a role in agriculture across all scales … using animal manures, crops and crop by-products to create low-carbon gas to replace fossil fuels and petrochemicals, while returning nutrients and organic matter to land”, explained NFU Chief Renewable Energy Adviser, Jonathan Scurlock.

Companies in the Food and Beverage industry have also acknowledged the benefits of using AD. Starbucks, Walkers, and BrewDog are some of many businesses looking to AD as a solution for their waste and bi-product treatment.

AD in the Community

As well as being beneficial for many household brands, the circular nature of AD serves communities too. For instance, the AD sector provides a range of jobs in the local area, both within the facilities and externally, through managing feedstock production, fertilizer, and maintenance.

Many facilities are also available for educational opportunities, providing inspiration and innovation around the benefits of renewable energy to all age groups.

Unlike many other forms of renewable energy, AD leaves nothing behind, and any bi-products can be input back into the economy, whether that’s in the form of gas, electricity, or crop fertilizer. This multifunctional form of renewable energy is the perfect solution for those aiming to reach Net Zero and to create a circular economy.