Three cheers for Coffs Harbour Waste Conference

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Circularity, collaboration, and connectedness –  Coffs Harbour Waste Conference 2023 puts a spotlight on the three Cs needed to drive change.

The Coffs Harbour Waste Conference remit has always been to try and reflect where the waste and resource recovery industry sits.

Greg Freeman, Conference Convenor, couldn’t have been more on target when he set the Waste 2023 theme of Working Together for a Better Future.

Collaboration and connectedness were common threads among keynote speakers and presenters during the three-day conference. Both are essential if Australia is to reach its circular economy goals to design out waste, keep materials in use and be carbon neutral. 

In the words of Rebecca Gilling, Chief Executive Officer of Planet Ark, it will require the greatest feat of collaboration the world has ever seen.

During the conference’s opening session, Rebecca outlined Planet Ark’s ambition to help Australia transition to both a circular and carbon neutral economy by connecting the dots between governments, businesses, communities, and individuals.

But why a carbon neutral circular economy? 

Consensus is that to keep global temperatures below 1.5 degrees the world needs to get to net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Switching to 100 per cent renewable energy will achieve 55 per cent, the remaining 45 per cent will be achieved by changing the way materials are sourced, used, and recovered – by transitioning to a circular economy. 

Rebecca says that alarmingly, most of the important measures are going the wrong way. More greenhouse gases are being emitted every year, although the rate of increase is reducing in some sectors and in some countries; more than 100 billion tonnes of materials are being extracted every year, and the amount of circularity is reducing. In the past two years consumption jumped by more than eight per cent but circularity of materials fell from 9.1 per cent in 2018 to 7.2 per cent in 2023.

“Sadly, we can’t recycle our way out of this,” Rebecca says. 

“I don’t want to suggest that recycling is not important, but it is a downstream solution to problems that have been created upstream. We need a whole of system change.”

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The RecycleSmart team embraced the 60s theme for the conference dinner.

Cate McQuillen, Creative Producer and Owner of mememe productions, agreed there was a need to challenge the status quo to drive change. Waste 2023 offered the ideal platform.

“There’s a difference between collaborating, and just wanting to do something, and actually coming together to work on a goal together with purpose and value,” Cate says.

“That’s what the challenge is now. It’s not just business collaborations and doing business with somebody, it’s elevating that.

“This is what we’re here to do. We’re not here to do same old, same old. When we collaborate, we get access to new perspectives, knowledge and skills that can help us find innovative solutions to complex problems.”

The theme of collaboration continued through the conference sessions which included a look at education, container deposit schemes, landfill, social enterprise, disaster waste management, soft plastics, and waste service procurement.

Greg says the program reflected current challenges within the waste and resource recovery industry. 

“As an industry, we do create the future, we are the future,” Greg says. “When we listen to the speakers here, we’ll understand what the future holds.”

A marquee sponsored by Superfy, returned for a second year to provide companies a dedicated space to showcase operational equipment. 

And, for the first time in 10 years, the Excellence in Innovation Awards were back. Sponsored by the Battery Stewardship Council, the awards acknowledge key people in councils and the non-government sector who work behind the scenes to improve sustainability in the community.

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The Superfy marquee gave companies a dedicated space to showcase operational equipment.

Presenting the awards, Libby Chaplin, Chief Executive Officer of the Battery Stewardship Council, said collaboration is key to innovation. By listening to each other and working together, innovation can be moved to the next level where anything is possible.  

“Each of the finalists had the courage to do something differently and create something new,” Libby said.

The Outstanding Council Project Award was won by Canterbury Bankstown Council for developing an artificial intelligence program that detects waste bin contamination.

The Innovative Product or Technology Award was won by Surface Active Foam Fractionation which removes PFAS contamination; while Revolve ReCYCLING was named Revolutionary New Start-up for its program to recover, recycle, repair, and redeploy used bikes. 

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