The ReNEW Project

Extracting valuable resources from our landfills

The challenge

While the recycling rate in Europe has increased over the last 10-20 years, the percentage of waste that still ends up in a landfill remains stubbornly high. Even worse, in  this landfilled waste there are valuable resources.

One way to improve resource efficiency is to develop a circular economy. This involves keeping products and resources in use for as long as possible through recovery, reuse, repair, remanufacturing, and recycling. As well as protecting the environment, this method can potentially offer substantial economic benefits.


The project in brief

The ReNEW project (Resource innovation Network for European Waste) brought together researchers, public authorities, and businesses in North-West Europe to explore new ways to extract these valuable resources, which include metals, nutrients, and chemicals, from household and industrial waste.

Applying a circular economy methodology, ReNEW supported cooperation between research institutions and businesses to create value from waste. To start, they developed Industrial Support Vouchers that provided access to specialist technical knowledge and equipment within the research organisations of the ReNEW Network. 

Then, the project focused on tackling policy and industry changes. They supported policy change at regional and national levels by providing briefings, updates and study visits to ReNEW partner facilities. For example, ReNEW-organised visits by Northern Ireland politicians to project partner facilities in Belgium and Germany. The output was the Belfast City Council commissioned a Circular Economy scoping document, and the Northern Ireland Department of the Environment committed to the creation of a Circular Economy Task and Finish Group.

Throughout the project, partners actively worked on solutions to tackle material scarcity and product design, as well as support strategies that would help the local economies move away from unsustainable practices.

ReNEW will help in formulating future Northern Ireland strategy as we look at ways to become more sustainable in the use of our resources.

Environment Minister Mark H Durkan

The impact

One of the network’s biggest achievements was getting more people to identify waste as a resource and an asset. More specifically, the ReNEW network addressed the problem of making consumers aware of the importance of making sustainable choices.

Additionally, the Industrial Support Vouchers increased the capacity of the industry to explore new ways to extract valuable resources. Together, these measures impacted policy in the waste-management sector, as well as raised awareness among important stakeholders.

To continue, as an added benefit from promotional activities, some partner countries which were less advanced in resource efficiency technologies were able to learn from other partner countries that were early adopters of the technology. This can be seen in the case of policymakers in Northern Ireland, where engagement with ReNEW led to new expectations for rates of recycling.

Another example includes representatives from Belfast City Council, Dungannon & South Tyrone Borough Council, Omagh District Council, and the Northern Ireland Departments of the Environment and of Trade and Investment. They worked with ReNEW and took part in a study visit a site in Germany. The site was a former landfill turned into a competence, learning, and innovation centre for materials recovery technology.

Following this visit, Belfast City Council commissioned the Circular Economy scoping document. The group then produced a plan for future activities to support the development of the Circular Economy model, which involved outreach, networking, and engagement for education and awareness.

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