Melbourne opens waste and circular economy prize

The theme of this year’s City of Melbourne Open Innovation Competition is waste elimination and the circular economy, with a prize of $30,000 to be divided among the top three submissions.

Launched in February 2018, the Open Innovation Competition is the City of Melbourne’s annual challenge to solve a city issue.

With a different theme each year, the competition calls for innovators, entrepreneurs, students and community members to submit ideas to solve a challenge. Past themes include city accessibility and safe mobility.

From 21 May to 3 July, the city is inviting the community to propose solutions to eliminating excessive waste within the city.

“It is estimated that close to 800,000 tonnes of waste is created within the City of Melbourne boundary every year, some of which is recycled, most of which goes to landfill,” a City of Melbourne statement reads.

“As the city’s population and density increases and as mass consumption is a defining trait of our culture, we must find ways to engage industry and innovate our way towards zero waste along entire supply chains.”

This year’s problem statement is: how might we create a more transparent circular economy by better addressing and influencing the ways in which the whole supply chain can eliminate waste?

The city is looking for solutions that enhance the accessibility of information to producers, industry, logistics, wholesale, traders and consumers.

“The goal is to educate these groups about the current waste supply chain and increase understanding of the role everyone plays in creating and completely eliminating waste,” the statement reads.

“We are also looking for proactive circular economy solutions that ensure the people and places of Melbourne play an active role in eliminating waste going to landfill.”

The city is encouraging participants to incorporate data and emerging technology into addressing one or more opportunity areas: C&D, C&I and household waste and circular economy solutions that address social equity.

In 2019, the City of Melbourne launched its Waste and Resource Recovery Strategy 2030, outlining a vision to turn Melbourne into a “zero-waste city”.

“The strategy clearly identifies reducing the production of waste as the most important priority as it reduces the need for recycling and recovering,” the statement reads.

“But it is not only high level changes at a city level, but also individualised behaviour change, that are recognised as key to achieving this. This is where we need your help.”

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NSW Circular appoints first CEO

Lisa McLean has been appointed as the NSW Circular Economy Innovation Network’s first CEO.

NSW Circular works collaboratively with government, industry, research organisations and communities to initiate, create and communicate circular economy opportunities and solutions for the state.

According to a NSW Circular statement, Ms McLean has been successfully advising industry and governments in developing new policy frameworks and regulations that bring about market change to enable the circular economy over the past 14 years.

“Lisa established and leads Open Cities Alliance, a peak industry association with unique membership from government to private sector and research organisations,” the statement reads.

“Open Cities advocates for the circular economy, prosumer rights and new zero-carbon local utility and mobility precinct approaches.”

Ms McClean also initiated and established the Australian Solar Thermal Association, has advised electric mobility providers and worked with sustainable water utility Flow Systems.

NSW Chief Scientist Hugh Durrant-Whyte said Ms McLean’s appointment will build on the strong foundations established in NSW Circular’s first year of operations.

“The network has already engaged with communities across NSW to look at the technological and non-technological challenges involved in identifying and managing diverse material and waste streams, and how we can extract value from them,” he said.

Additionally, NSW Circular Chair Chair Margaret Harding said the network has already undertaken significant work to help identify circular capabilities in NSW, as well as knowledge gaps.

“Having Lisa come on board, with her high-level experience as a senior executive in several organisations engaged in circular economy, renewable and recyclables markets, will enable NSW Circular to begin to extend its operations and develop sustainable business models and processes at scale,” she said.

Of her appointment, Ms McLean said she is passionate about building collaborations between key stakeholders to bring about change and create a sustainable future.

“I’m equally excited at the prospect of working alongside Professor Veena Sahajwalla, one of the true global pioneers in new recycling technologies,” she said.

“Our challenge now is to develop new ideas and work practices, drawing on diverse skill sets and sectors, to create innovative, high impact strategies and solutions for NSW’s pressing waste issue.”

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Clean loop recycling: TOMRA

Container deposit schemes are the first step in changing the way people think about the circular economy and the importance of reusing precious resources, TOMRA’s Ryan Buzzell explains. 

Collaborative success stories are abound throughout the waste industry, with initiatives such as the Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation and Food Innovation Australia Limited highlighting the central role industry plays in developing Australia’s legislative resource recovery framework.

In recent years, the industry/government alliance model has been applied to the nationwide establishment of container deposit schemes (CDS), to great success.

Ryan Buzzell, TOMRA Collection Solutions Australia President, highlights CDS’ as a standout example of government and industry working together to protect natural resources for societal reuse.

“We’re about to learn a lot about the impacts of plastics in our oceans, including their impact on our society and human health. I believe that sustainability, and particularly the circular economy concept, will become an urgent priority in the next few years,” Ryan says.

“To address that, we need to ensure those concepts remain at the forefront of business innovation and government policy decisions. I think those two entities working together can really make significant positive change.”

With the majority of his working life spent at TOMRA, Ryan’s commitment to fostering the circular economy is a lifelong passion.

“I remember learning about greenhouse gases and their impact on the climate in primary school and thinking I wanted to be part of the solution,” he says.

Beginning his relationship with TOMRA in 2005, Ryan started working at the company in an entry level position with the collection solutions division.

“When I came across TOMRA in 2005, it was clear to me that this was an organisation that aligned with my personal values. And 15 years later, that’s still something that holds true.

“Since then I’ve held progressive positions within the organisation. More recently in 2015, I was General Manager of our business in New York City. And then in 2017, I came to Australia to head up our business here, with the onset of the CDS in NSW.”


In his Cleaning Up Our Act: Redirecting the Future of Plastic in NSW Minister’s Message, Environment Minister Matt Kean highlights plastic as synonymous with the global consumer economy – underpinning “our use and dispose mentality”.

Ryan shares similar sentiments, calling Australia’s cultural attachment to single-use items a major problem that requires innovative solutions and behavioural change.

“The past 40 years have seen our unsustainable linear economic model – take, make, dispose – accelerate at a significant rate, with approximately one million plastic bottles now bought every minute globally. We need to work at addressing that issue and promoting awareness about the value of the circular economy model.”

Mirroring sentiments expressed by TOMRA CEO Stefan Ranstrand at the 2019 World Circular Economy Forum in Helsinki, Finland, Ryan says with an estimated 95 per cent of plastic packaging material value lost to the economy, the international community needs to work to unlock that economic potential.

He highlights that in doing so, the global economy could unleash up to $85 billion annually.

Furthermore, Ryan says the environmental effects of plastic waste are set to increase without action, with estimates suggesting plastic production will rise by 40 per cent over the next 10 years.

Despite the scale of the problem, Ryan remains optimistic, noting the success of NSW’s CDS Return and Earn.

“The CDS, which has demonstrated positive effects on recovery rates, will be instrumental in improving our future environmental outcomes and addressing the waste crisis,” he says.

“CDS’ offer an opportunity to show people how the circular economy can work and encourages them to look at other areas of their consumption, thereby breaking down barriers and changing people’s mindsets and behaviours.”

In July 2017, TOMRA, in a joint venture with Cleanaway, was appointed Return and Earn network operator by the NSW Government. As part of the network operator JV, TOMRA provides technology and software, including reverse vending machines.

Cleanaway provides logistics, material sorting and recyclable commodities brokerage. Administered by scheme coordinator Exchange for Change and regulated by the NSW EPA, Return and Earn represents a well-oiled example of industry/government collaboration.   

Since it was introduced, the scheme has seen more than 3.4 billion containers returned and recycled, with NSW Parliamentary Environment Secretary James Griffin remarking on Return and Earn’s then 67 per cent redemption rate for eligible drink containers at the time of the scheme’s second anniversary in December last year.

Ryan estimates that more than one billion containers would have found their way to landfill or litter over the last two years. While the success of Return and Earn is likely well known to most in the waste and resource recovery sector, Ryan says its impact can be measured beyond bottles collected and litter reduction rates.

He adds that the scheme has fundamentally changed the way NSW residents think about waste and litter, thereby illustrating a public willingness to engage in the circular economy.

“More and more, Australians are understanding that waste is a resource and actually something that holds value. But society still needs a push or a reminder to turn that into a habit,” Ryan says.

CDS’ work by adding a small extra deposit on top of the price of a beverage – such as those in plastic and glass bottles and aluminium cans – which is refunded to the consumer when they return the empty drink container for recycling.

“This is typically established through legislation passed by state or national governments. When the consumer purchases the beverage, they pay the additional deposit on the container. Once they have finished with their beverage, the consumer returns the container to receive their deposit back,” Ryan says.

“That’s where CDS models work so well: by attaching an incentive to those products to remind people that these are valuable resources. CDS functions as a very tangible example of the circular economy in action.”


While the plastic waste crisis is affecting the entire globalised world, Ryan says the combination of collaborative action and innovative technology offers a real solution. He adds that significant economic, social and environmental opportunities can be found in TOMRA’s clean loop recycling ethos.

Despite most being aware of the closed loop recycling process, TOMRA is championing an updated model, with clean loop recycling at the forefront of the company’s business framework.

“What we mean by clean loop recycling is using technology at the point of return for bottles and cans to essentially recognise the container and sort it on the front end,” Ryan says.

“This keeps contamination in the material streams to an absolute minimum, which ensures those clean streams of material can be turned back into new bottles rather than being downcycled.”

According to Ryan, over 50 per cent of the containers collected through Return and Earn are recycled into new bottles and cans, highlighting the scheme’s prioritisation of high order recycling.

“Rather than downcycling the material we collect, Return and Earn works to lessen the need for virgin material production by turning old bottles and cans into new bottles and cans – thereby extending the lifecycle of the original material,” he says.

Containers collected in the greater Sydney region are returned to a Sydney recycling facility for processing and on-sale to other businesses to be re-used. Ryan adds that containers collected in regional areas are processed at regional recycling facilities, reducing the need to transport materials across the state.

Plastic is undoubtably the workhorse material of the modern economy, Ryan adds. Addressing the plastic waste problem therefore requires more than just telling consumers to buy less.

“To achieve the ambitious goals of a circular economy, it’s necessary to employ state-of-the-art approaches that push boundaries, with TOMRA’s reverse vending and waste sorting solutions helping to achieve this by recovering materials and providing valuable insight into the composition of these materials,” he says.

“The result is a greater understanding of where efficiencies can be made to minimise costs and waste, and better utilise resources within a closed loop – further mitigating the impact of CO2 and other emissions and inefficiencies.”

According to Return and Earn’s consumer research, conducted in December 2019, eight out of 10 Return and Earn participants are satisfied with the scheme. While over three-quarters of NSW residents believe it will reduce the amount of litter in the state.

Ryan adds that TOMRA’s research shows more than half of NSW residents are using the scheme, which in turn demonstrates how easy access to drop-off points and a well-planned network of collections and recovery infrastructure is critical to building Australia’s circular economy.

Recent research also shows that for young people 18 and 24, the environment is now their number one concern above health and the economy. This, Ryan suggests, demonstrates the circular economy concept taking root.

“I expect we will see more of these thoughtful consumers emerging in the future, with CDS enabling the consideration of not just what you’re buying and using, but also where those products are going to end up,” he says.

“CDS’ are a great example of delivering on the triple bottom line of sustainability: less litter in the environment, refunds used to benefit charities and local community groups, and lastly, recycled containers becoming a part of the circular economy through extended product life.”

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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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