RMIT professors push for industry input on circular economy

Academics engaged to provide comment on Victoria’s draft Circular Economy Policy have warned that without industry input, the strategy’s success could be limited.

The Victorian Circular Economy Policy draft was opened to public comment earlier this year.

According to the official document, the policy aims to re-define growth by decoupling economic activity from the consumption of finite resources and design waste out of the system.

According to RMIT professors Usha Iyer-Raniga and Scott Valentine, the strategy needs to involve a rethinking of resource efficiency across the economy, and extend its focus beyond Victoria’s waste and recycling crisis.

Ms Iyer-Raniga said while environmental ministries have an important role in circular economy strategic development, business model innovation and corporate buy-ins are needed to foster results.

“As the Danish and Dutch experiences in circular economy planning show us, it is not only about diverting tins of soda away from landfills, it is about new innovations and new strategies for producing and consuming goods and services,” Ms Iyer-Raniga said.

Both Ms Iyer-Raniga and Mr Valentine are members of RMIT’s CE Hub, which helps businesses find profitable resource efficiency strategies.

“If implemented correctly, a circular economy strategy will enhance corporate profitability, reduce resource costs, make Australian industry more competitive and create new business and jobs,” Mr Valentine said.

“In short, the circular economy needs to be approached as an economic development strategy, and connections need to be made with research and development hubs like we have at RMIT. Failure to do so will discourage corporate buy-in and the initiative will underperform.”

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NSW Circular to host stakeholder event

NSW Circular has partnered with the Advanced Manufacturing Growth Centre to help Central Coast businesses map and identify opportunities to reduce waste, enhance sustainability and boost industry.

The event, held 7 August, will bring stakeholders together from across governments, industry, universities and not-for-profit groups to discuss transitioning to a circular economy.

University of New South Wales Professor and NSW Circular Economy Innovation Network Director Veena Sahajwalla will present the keynote address.

“We are aiming to facilitate market-based solutions to the opportunities and challenges faced in efficiently managing our materials, supplies and waste, and will be looking for pilot projects to create new pathways and outcomes,” Ms Sahajwalla said.

Advanced Manufacturing Growth Centre National Director of Industry Michael Sharpe will facilitate a discussion to identify new local circular economy solutions.

“Hunter and Central Coast businesses are already some of the most innovative in Australia, and with this event we hope to share some of those examples to develop more circular economy solutions,” Mr Sharpe said.

“The manufacturing sector plays a critical role in this area, which is resulting in more efficient business operations and economic growth.”

Mr Sharpe said attendees will learn how a circular approach can be incorporated into local supply chains and deliver greater economic, social and environmental benefits.

Panellists include:

Professor Veena Sahajwalla – NSW Circular Director

Ashley Brinson – NSW Circular Co-director

Debbie Hambly – Milk Bottle Collective Project Manager

Ian Hudson – Industry Capability Network Deputy Director

Tim Askew – Hunter Joint Organisation of Councils Regional Project Manager

Marta Fernandes – Nespresso Technical and Quality Manager

Brooke Donnelly – Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation CEO

Paul Klymenko – Planet Ark CEO

Nishi Vissamraju – Downer Group National Environmental Sustainability Advisor Transport and Infrastructure

Jodi Boylan – The War of Waste Executive Producer

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Victoria to develop 10-year action plan

The Victorian Circular Economy Policy, which will establish goals for the Victorian waste and resource recovery system to transition to a circular economy, has opened for public comment.

A 10-year action plan outlining how the Victorian Government will work with businesses and community to deliver the policy’s goals will also be established.

Environment Minister Lily D’Ambrosio said the Circular Economy Policy would deliver new opportunities for industry and more jobs for Victorians.

“We’re transforming the way we think about waste and resource recovery – developing a circular economy will deliver better environmental, social and economic results for Victoria,” Ms D’Ambrosio said.

“Through the policy, Victoria will transition from the traditional linear model of consumption to a circular model that continually seeks to minimise the use of natural resources.”

The public now have an opportunity to comment on the policy issues paper, with a draft policy set to be released in September.

“The draft policy will outline a suite of specific proposals for how we can improve material use throughout the economy,” the paper reads.

“This could include regulations, incentive programs, innovation support and/or education. The final circular economy policy will draw together this consultation and research and analysis.”

The circular economy policy will establish goals and targets, in addition to a strong performance framework to measure, monitor and publicly report on progress.

“While these goals are still to be set, there will be many factors that will need to be measured and tracked, such as materials used for each unit of economic output, waste generation per person, energy generated from waste and reduction in stockpiles of recyclable material,” the paper reads.

The paper references multiple case studies including the use of recycled materials in public infrastructure and food waste reduction.

“Victoria can leverage additional benefits from the pipeline of public infrastructure projects. Approximately 3.9 million tonnes of recovered material are already used in road and other construction in Victoria, and there is scope to use more recycled materials in the construction of our public infrastructure,” the paper reads.

“There is significant scope to reduce food waste and ensure more is recovered in Australia’s leading food and agriculture state. Only 10 per cent of food waste generated by households and businesses is currently recovered. That means over 887,000 tonnes of food waste ends up in Victorian landfills each year and the water and energy required to produce and transport it is wasted.”

Ms D’Ambrosio said the policy responds to global recycling challenges, and will build on the government’s continued investment in waste and resource recovery initiatives.

“This latest package builds on the $37 million Recycling Industry Strategic Plan – bringing the state government’s investment in the waste and resource recovery industry to more than $135 million,” Ms D’Ambrosio said.

“I encourage Victorians to have their say on this important issue, as we work towards a final policy in 2020.”

The Circular Economy Policy issues paper is open for consultation until 2 August.

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NWRIC presents at ALGA general assembly

At the Australian Local Government Association’s (ALGA) Your Community, Your Environment presentation, National Waste Recycling Industry Council (NWRIC) CEO Rose Read highlighted the need to promote a shared approach to resource recovery and circular economies.

The presentation was held as part of ALGA’s National General Assembly in Canberra. Other speakers included APCO Government Partnership Manager Peter Brisbane, Planet Ark Head of Sustainable Resource Programs Ryan Collins, Lake Macquarie Council Deputy CEO Tony Farrell and Alice Springs Mayor Damien Ryan.

“Industry and local councils can work together to put recycling back on a sustainable pathway,” Ms Read said.

“Central to this shared approach are activities that will reduce contamination, such as consistent statewide community education programs, smarter ways to separate materials at source, removing toxic and dangerous items from bins and upgrading re-processing capacity at material recovery facilities.”

In addressing plastics, Ms Read identified a number of steps to help material recycling facilities remain viable.

“We need to upgrade our recycling facilities and sorting and reprocessing capacity, so they can produce higher quality outputs that meet producer specifications,” Ms Read said.

“It is vital that local, state and federal governments procure recovered mixed plastics for civil construction, and that packaging companies are required to meet minimum recycled content.”

Ms Read said there is also opportunity to reduce carbon emissions and improve soil quality if local councils work with industry, to set up food and organic collection services and composting facilities.

“Key to the success of increased organics recovery will be preventing contamination, establishing local markets for the compost produced and planning for recycling precincts in local council areas,” Ms Read said.

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$3 million in federal funding for education and resource recovery

The Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation (APCO) and the Planet Ark Environmental Foundation (PAEF) have received $3 million in federal funding to support new recycling education and resource recovery projects.

The funding forms part of the Federal Government’s $100 million Environmental Restoration Fund, and will provide resources and support to drive the delivery of the 2025 National Packaging Targets.

The National Consumer Education Program (NCEP) has been allocated $1.1 million to create a consistent national approach to consumer education on reducing, reusing and recycling packaging over the next four years.

NCEP will extend the reach of the Australasian Recycling Label (ARL) Program, an evidence-based labelling scheme delivered by APCO and launched by Environment Minister Melissa Price in September 2018.

APCO CEO Brooke Donnelly said she is pleased the government have recognised the value of ARL, and other connected projects delivered by the organisation.

“This funding will enable us to continue our collaborative work with industry and our partners to ensure we meet the 2025 targets and continue to work toward achieving a circular economy in Australia,” Ms Donnelly said.

A further $1.6 million will support the development of a Circular Economy Hub, a new online platform and marketplace developed by PAEF and designed to help drive innovation in the transition to a circular economy in Australia.

PAEF CEO Paul Klymenko said the website will match buyers and sellers in waste resources, helping them identify products with sustainable materials, including recycled content.

“An important element will be the Circular Economy Marketplace, which will act as the B2B ‘eBay’ for the circular economy,” Mr Klymenko said.

“Planet Ark is thrilled to have been entrusted with the development of these vital tools.”

The Regional Model for Soft Plastics Recycling project, a partnership between APCO and the Plastic Police based in NSW’s Hunter Valley, will receive $150,000 to explore opportunities for expansion – including extending deployment to other regions.

A further $150,000 will also be provided to the Remote and Regional Waste Collection Partnership, a project aiming to support governments and communities address the challenges of waste and resource recovery in remote and regional areas.

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GRI Waste Standard opens for public comment

Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) is seeking input from international specialists and advocacy groups to shape its draft Waste Standard.

GRI is an independent international organisation that helps businesses, governments and other organisations understand and communicate their sustainability impacts.

According to GRI Global Sustainability Standards Board Chair Judy Kuszewski, GRI standards are the world’s most widely adopted sustainability reporting framework.

“In the face of a growing global waste crisis, new corporate reporting disclosures are being developed by GRI to help organisations better understand and communicate their waste impacts,” Ms Kuszewski said.

“The new Waste Standard will help companies improve their waste management, with a strong emphasis on the transition to a circular economy.”

The initial draft standard was developed by a multi-stakeholder project working group appointed by the Global Sustainability Standards Board to review, revise and expand the content of waste disclosures, and is an update on GRI 306: Effluents and Waste 2016 .

“The draft GRI Waste Standard recognises that our linear, ‘take-make-waste’ approach is contributing towards a global waste crisis,” Ms Kuszewski said.

“As the world moves to a more circular economy, in which we treat waste as an input material for production, a new approach to reporting is needed.”

Ms Kuszewski said the draft agues for a fundamental shift in the perception of waste, greater emphasis on how decisions on procuring and using materials relate directly to waste generation and new disclosures to understand how discarded waste has been created and the significance of its impact.

“International recognition of the need for action on waste is increasing, and the scale of the issue – from the effect of plastics in marine ecosystems to the mounting disconnect between food waste generation and global hunger – illustrates why businesses and other organisations need to play their part by improving waste management practices,” Ms Kuszewski said.

“The standard will help companies better understand and measure their waste impacts, disclosing reliable and comparable data that ultimately supports better decisions.”

The public comment period is open until 15 July, with contributions welcomed from anyone irrespective of sector, type of business or location.

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Circular Economy Innovation Network hold first meeting

A new circular economy group has been launched by the NSW Government through the Office of Chief Scientist to bring stakeholders together from across governments, industry, universities and not-for-profit groups.

The Circular Economy Innovation Network (CEIN) will look to map and identify opportunities for stakeholders to work together in the goal to reduce waste, enhance sustainability and ultimately boost industry (growth and jobs) by developing a circular economy.

The first stakeholders’ meeting was held at UNSW as CEIN host, was attended by 150 stakeholders wanting to enhance sustainability, and was emceed by Michael Sharpe, Director of the federal government-initiated Advanced Manufacturing Growth Centre.

The size and complexity of the waste challenge facing society dominated discussion at the first stakeholders’ meeting of the newly announced CEIN.

CEIN Director, Professor Veena Sahajwalla, who is Founding Director of the UNSW Centre for Sustainable Materials Research and Technology (SMaRT) Centre, said that many stakeholders have already been making great progress in reducing waste and using it as a resource, and the first stakeholders meeting was a testament to that.

“What is clear is that we need much greater coordination and connectivity across stakeholders to identify the opportunities and problems in getting a circular economy really going,” she said.

“And that is where the new network comes in. CEIN will bring stakeholders together to not only enhance current efforts to build a circular economy, but to identify the big impact opportunities.”

CEIN Co-Director, Ashley Brinson, who is Executive Director of the Warren Centre at Sydney University, said the passion and enthusiasm displayed during the first stakeholder meeting session demonstrated a strong collective desire to truly establish a circular economy in NSW and Australia.

“We heard from both the Chair and Co-Chair of the NSW Government’s Steering Committee for the CEIN, as well as many stakeholders representing the different sectors and industries that are central to a circular economy, and a key acknowledgement was the need for a coordination of sustainability efforts,” she said.

The CEIN is undergoing its start-up phase and is developing a series of stakeholder workshops to identify themes and opportunities, as well as other activities such as identifying tools and resources needed to promote innovative solutions to reduce and re-use waste and improve product design and production to reduce and re-use waste.

Ms Sahajwalla said that by making the right connections between researchers, businesses and governments, we can play a significant role in developing a true circular economy in Australia.

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