To do so, according to Doug Morwood, managing director of reuse firm ReRe, we need to stop “neglecting” our homegrown manufacturing base and relying on “despots and despotic economies like Russia and China” for cheap products that we only end up using a handful of times, before sending them back to low-wage countries in the form of waste. He is calling for the Government and businesses alike to show “bravery” in bringing the money we send abroad back to Britain, stimulating economic growth in the process.
For Mr Morwood, the first step is for UK consumers to rediscover the value we used to hold in the products we buy – and have the opportunity to buy products that stand the test of time.
“I grew up remembering that we had [glass] milk bottles,” he told Express.co.uk. “You used to buy things that were going to last. You invested in products that were repairable.
“I do remember a time when you had repair shops, you repaired clothes, you repaired cars – there was not a throwaway culture.”
He added: “We have, through globalisation, such a low cost in garments – for example, £3 for a t-shirt and £9 for a pair of jeans.
READ MORE: Interest rates: Calls for ‘urgent review’ of BoE after backlash
“It’s not designed to last anymore; it’s designed to be used and then when it gets a bit raggedy they get thrown away – or the fashion changes so quickly that there’s nothing wrong with the garments, but they’re so cheap, there’s no value.”
Mr Morwood believes that by changing the way we consume by to reusing the items we buy – and by being able to buy goods designed to last – we can create an economy that is far more sustainable and profitable in the long term.
He asked: “Do we value having that convenience and having stuff that’s so cheap that we don’t value it that we throw it out after a couple of uses?
“Or would we rather have a society where we could reskill and retrain our workforce to create local economies that are going to be able to be good for our local communities, but also the national GDP – that allows us not to rely on despots and despotic economies like Russia and China?”
On the former, Mr Morwood said that “in order to keep the goods as cheap as possible, we’ve offshored to low-income economies, devastating our local manufacturing base – and that’s all come home to roost.” He described the Brexit vote as being one “result of decades of neglect of communities, of industries, of the dignity of work […] We’ve lost the value somewhere along the line.”
His company – which provides supermarkets with reusable packaging for everyday household products – is already testing the latter in microcosm.
Instead of buying plastic only to go in the bin, consumers can hire pre-filled aluminium bottles, which they can then exchange for another – perhaps something completely different – product the next time they shop.
The reusable scheme has already been taken up by retailers including Asda, Coop and M&S, as well as manufacturing giant Unilever. Mr Morwood also mentions a desire to place return stations in 20,000 convenience stores.
UK snake sightings spark panic for British beachgoers [REPORT]
Putin’s dreams dashed with £1.7bn game-changing Swiss ‘water battery’ [REVEAL]
Biden strikes multi-billion arms deal with Saudi and UAE [INSIGHT]
He admitted that the £2 deposit on his reusable packaging was currently a “barrier” to those on low incomes, but said he is “working with brands and retailers to take that initial cost away so it maybe provided by the retailers or the brands”.
Once ReRe reaches an economy of scale, he believes reusable packaging will prove cheaper than plastic alternatives – a welcome pledge for consumers bearing the brunt of the cost of living crisis.
In terms of bringing jobs back to the UK, Mr Morwood notes the three new employees he has taken on just this week work in his bottle cleaning plant, as well as the UK-based aluminium factories he relies on. He said: “It’s creating a new manufacturing base across the UK.
“Because for a circular economy to work, it’s going from global to local. And if you have a local circular economy, a local supply chain, local people, local communities (because you want to lower the amount of carbon being reduced) […] then it creates a local manufacturing opportunity.”
He argued that the number of different businesses that could be created in a circular economy was “vast”, and would provide opportunity for “lots of practical – not just academic – vocational jobs”.
But in order to do that, he said, “we’re going to have to look our built environment, our transport infrastructure, our retail and consumer goods – all of these provide opportunities for reskilling, so people coming out of oil and gas and other industries that we need to dial down, that have transferrable skills but will need to learn about new things.”
Were we to do so, “we can create an economy where every part of the UK is vibrant because we design a system that’s good for people, planet and profit”.
Mr Morwood believes the Government and businesses “could do a lot more”, but said they were suffering from “status anxiety, reputational risk, loss aversion”.
He continued: “We don’t have a leadership that’s going to look at that policy, legislation and regulation, […] and bring business in to say: ‘The status quo is no longer sufficient. We need to collectively come together as multiple stakeholders to redesign the system that’s going to be better for our people, for the planet, and actually for more sustainable profit’. But I don’t see that happening.”
Mr Morwood described himself as an optimist, but lamented the “tinkering round the edges” that current economic policy had at a time of multiple crises.
He added: “I think there’s a lack of bravery to just grasp the nettle. It’s going to be difficult in the short term, but until we create more enabling conditions for a transformation to happen, we’re just going to get more continuity of status quo.”