Not dead yet: resurrecting the circular economy


Tuesday, 21 May, 2019



Not dead yet: resurrecting the circular economy

Most Australians recognise that our current practice of extracting resources to make products that we use and then throw away is unsustainable. There is a call to shift to a circular economy, leaving space for new innovative technologies and creative alternative uses for items that are ready for the next stage in their life cycle.

According to the Gumtree Second Hand Economy Report 2018, 89% of Australians have unwanted items in their homes, with each household harbouring around 25 items that are unused or unwanted. In response to the plethora of goods lying dormant in our communities, Brisbane start-up World’s Biggest Garage Sale (WBGS) is designing innovative solutions to commercialise the circular economy through the activation of these items. The initiative is mobilising community participation around the circular economy by bringing unused and unwanted goods into the economy to create purposeful profit, while generating a positive social and environmental impact.

WBGS CEO Yasmin Grigaliunas said, “Our large-scale events have a circular-economy focus centred on keeping products and materials in use and reducing waste that might otherwise go to landfill.” She explained that the initiative represents an innovative business model based on community participation around the circular economy, with attitudes towards second-hand products undergoing a positive shift.

WBGS Operations Manager Donaugh Austin said that the circular economy is a catalyst for clean technology innovation, economic development and behavioural change, where items once deemed at the end their life become valued resources.The circular economy challenges us to think about business differently and to move away from the prevailing linear economy of ‘take, make, use, throw away’.

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation, with a mission to accelerate the transition to a circular economy by working with industry, government and academia, describes three key principles that form the foundation of the new system:

  • Waste and pollution must be designed out of the equation, with waste viewed as a design flaw.
  • Products and materials to be kept in use.
  • Natural systems to be regenerated by returning valuable nutrients to the soil and other ecosystems.
     

Speaking ahead of her presentation at the 2019 National Clean Technologies Conference and Exhibition, Austin explained that during the design process, we should begin with the end in mind, asking what happens to products throughout their life cycle, which will force us to innovate and bring about new opportunities.

Clean technology serves to minimise impact on the environment by incorporating energy efficiency, sustainable and efficient use of resources and reducing or eliminating emissions and waste. Austin said that it’s clear to see that clean technology and the circular economy overlap and dovetail into each other.

She emphasised that this year’s NCTCE will feature many great examples of up and coming companies hoping to make a positive and impactful contribution to Queensland’s circular economy. Here is a sneak peek…

Case 1: Solaire Properties

Technology, innovation, energy efficiency and the sustainable and efficient use of resources underpins the work of Brisbane-based property development company Solaire Properties. The company makes architectural homes that have full passive house certification, meaning that the properties meet all requirements for insulation, efficiency, comfort and ventilation. The homes are designed with optimal management and use of energy and material resources during all stages of the life cycle of residential buildings (new and existing).

“We calculate and design to ensure carbon savings and impact reduction are made at each stage, and throughout the renovation process all usable items and materials are carefully recovered for repurpose, recycle, sale or donation,” said Harley Weston, Managing Director of Solaire Properties.

Image caption: Old parts of houses that Solaire Properties couldn’t sell were donated to Reverse Garbage. Image courtesy of NCTCE.

Case 2: Coreo

Coreo engages industry, influencers and policy makers throughout Australasia to capitalise on the economic, social and environmental opportunities of a circular economy. Together with Business models Inc., Coreo launched The Circular Economy Lab (CE Lab) in February 2019 in Brisbane — a platform for multiparty innovation where emerging opportunities are explored and circular solutions are co-authored. The experimental and collaborative environment aims to accelerate the circular economy in Queensland. The CE Lab tests ideas and explores opportunities with leaders from across a range of sectors to create commercial, circular solutions to address industry challenges and capitalise on emerging opportunities.

Case 3: BlockTexx

With Australians consuming more than 27 kg of clothing per capita, BlockTexx is tackling our ever-growing textile waste by developing planet-focused solutions that divert textile waste from landfill into sustainable products.

Most clothes are made from blended fabrics and separation of these materials has been elusive to date. BlockTexx’s separation of fibre technology (S.O.F.T) separates polyester and cotton materials such as clothes, sheets and towels back into the raw materials PET and cellulose for re-use as new products. Currently, Australia’s textile recycling methods are inadequate at landfill diversion — any investment in textile recycling will be environmentally and economically profound.

Image caption: Separation of fibre technology at BlockTexx is reported to be a world-first waste-to-resource process. Image courtesy of NCTCE.

To learn more about the circular economy, attend Donaugh Austin’s presentation, ‘The Ultimate Disruptor — The Circular Economy’, at the NCTCE on 29–31 May 2019 on the Sunshine Coast. Visit www.nctce.com.au.

Image caption: Volunteers power World's Biggest Garage Sale events. Image credit: © J.Chia Essence Images.

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