23 November 2023

Building a circular Australia

Global use of resources and materials has quadrupled over the past 50 years, according to the Circle Economy thinktank – outpacing population growth. Its latest Circularity Gap Reporting Initiative, which measures and analyses the global circular economy each year, says the world’s “take-make-waste economy” now consumes over 100 billion tonnes of resources a year – and wastes more than 90 per cent of them.

As the world grapples with this escalating issue, Australia is playing an increasingly key role at home and abroad to bolster circular economy initiatives and help find sustainable global solutions.

The Australian Government’s commitment to reducing waste and putting valuable recycled materials to work includes halving food waste by 2030; achieving 80 per cent recovery rate of waste by 2030 and regulating the export of glass, plastic, tyres, paper and cardboard.

Australia recently joined a newly formed group of 35 countries – the High Ambition Coalition to End Plastic Pollution – committed to eradicating plastic litter by 2040. Australia also this month signed the New Plastics Economy Global Commitment, which brings together more than 500 signatories, including governments and industry, to work towards a circular economy where 100 per cent of plastic packaging is recyclable, reusable or compostable.

“Through the High Ambition Coalition to End Plastic Pollution and the @Global Commitment, we look forward to strengthening partnerships across the globe to stamp out plastic pollution,” says Australia’s Minister for the Environment and Water Tanya Plibersek.

These key international measures follow a meeting in October of Australian federal and state ministers, who agreed to new packaging and recycling targets for 2025, including phasing out unnecessary single-use plastics and expanding the National Waste Policy Action Plan over the coming year.

A male and female worker wearing yellow high visibility vests sort through recycled household materials on a conveyor belt

This week, the Australian Circular Economy Conference and the inaugural University of Sydney Net Zero Initiative are shining a spotlight on the latest research, trends and innovations in this space – as well as highlighting the businesses and industries that are actively applying circular economy practices and solutions to their operations.

The benefits are not only environmental but also economic. A 2021 report by PwC says a circular economy model for Australia could generate A$1,860 billion in direct economic benefits over 20 years and save 165 million tonnes of CO2 per year by 2040.

Australia’s transition towards a circular economy is attracting a growing number of international companies with expertise in areas such as plastics recycling, food and garden organics processing, and waste-to-energy technologies.

The Australian Trade and Investment Commission (Austrade) recently hosted 12 leading Dutch and German companies working in the waste-to-energy and aligned technology and engineering sectors, including DutchPowerGroupHofstetter BVAdverio Waste Systems (AWS) and Blue Phoenix Group.

Japanese corporation Sojitz Corporation is another Austrade-supported global entity that is pivoting its investment strategy from legacy sectors to the circular economy – investing in Australian recycling, health care, renewables and green hydrogen.

Earlier this year, global waste solutions company BRIGHTMARK announced plans to build a gold-standard plastics renewal facility in regional New South Wales. The facility will be the largest of its type outside the United States and marks a first for Australia in advanced plastic recycling.

French-headquartered environmental solutions company Veolia is another global player seizing the opportunities on offer in Australia. CEO and Managing Director of Veolia ANZ Richard Kirkman points to Australia’s natural advantages – for example, space available to build large-scale facilities and its ability to produce renewable energy to drive the circular economy.

“Today [in Australia], we’re recycling about 65 per cent of the waste that we produce. We want to go to 80 per cent, and then we want to go to 100 per cent,” he says. “Doing all those things is better for the environment; it’s better for the economy; and it’s better for sustainable jobs.

“That’s how Australia is leading the way.”

To find out what else Australia is doing as it transitions to a circular economy – and how your business can tap into the opportunities available, visit our circular economy page.

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