Round we go in the circular economy

What if you could grow the economy, create new jobs and reduce pollution at the same time?

Australia's population has more than quadrupled in the past century and annual per capita waste generation is expected to grow from 2.1 tonnes to 2.5 tonnes. This is, literally, a waste.

Nationally and overseas a new waste narrative exists – a push to develop a circular economy. 

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Source: Sustainability Victoria

Australia’s current economic system is predominantly linear - we ‘take, make, use and dispose’. For example, with the current focus on plastic pollution, it is alarming only 9 per cent of plastic ever made has been recycled.  This is inherently wasteful and results in negative environmental and social impacts. 

"What if you could grow the economy, create new jobs and reduce pollution at the same time?” - Stan Krpan  

A circular economy replaces the ‘end-of-life’ concept with restoration and regeneration. It shifts towards the use of renewable energy, eliminates the use of toxic chemicals which impair reuse and aims for the elimination of waste through the superior design of materials, products, systems, and business models. 

It embeds ‘stewardship’ principles where designers and manufacturers engineer products to eliminate or reduce end of life environmental impacts. This is the reason that the circular economy is one of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

McKinsey has suggested the circular economy could generate a net economic benefit of €1.8 trillion by 2030. 

Ringing endorsement

Shrewd businesses around the world are seizing the opportunity presented by the circular economy and re-examining their own business models.

Infrastructure group Downer – with funding from Sustainability Victoria – is one of the groups leading the way.  

The company is repurposing soft plastics into asphalt which can be recycled in perpetuity for future roads, enabling up to 10 million tonnes of waste to potentially be diverted from landfill every year.

The group hopes to divert 200,000 plastic bags and 63,000 glass bottles from landfill in Victoria through the program.

Elsewhere, Integrated Recycling has developed plastic railway sleepers produced from a mix of flexible plastics, such as recovered agricultural films, polystyrene and rigid plastics like pipes, drums and bottles.

The sleepers have so far been installed in seven tourist and heritage rail lines. They too, can be recycled in perpetuity.

Sustainability Victoria has also partnered with ANZ as part of our TAKE2 pledge program. TAKE2 encourages and supports individuals and organisations to commit to tackling climate change by keeping the temperature rise under two degrees.

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Downer asphalt can be recycled in perpetuity. SOURCE: Provided.


Internationally, many countries are adopting circular economy principles to guide economic and environmental policies and practices - the conversation is rapidly shifting.

Excitingly, a circular economy aims to ‘design out’ waste altogether. Products are designed and optimised for a cycle of disassembly and reuse. This is different to disposal and even recycling where large amounts of embedded energy and labour are lost.

According to the World Economic Forum, this calls for a new contract between businesses and their customers based on product performance. Durable products are leased, rented, or shared wherever possible.

In most cases, it is the outcome the world needs – not the product. If durable products are sold, there are incentives or agreements in place to ensure their return, ultimately enabling the reuse of the product or its components at the end of its period of primary use.

Economies win because it creates a new sector dedicated to reverse cycle activities for reuse, refurbishing, remanufacturing and recycling.  Companies win because the circular economy could reduce material bills (via reselling and component recovery) and warranty risks by building to last and more manageable life cycles.

Consumers and users win because of increased product longevity and resilience - and of course the community and environment are better off.

At Sustainability Victoria, we have been thinking about our work in the context of a circular economy for some years.

Victoria has a 30-year Statewide Waste and Resource Recovery Infrastructure Plan - the first of its kind in Australia. It is supported by strategies like the Market Development Strategy which aims to develop local markets for recovered resources and Waste Education Strategy both of which are also built on circular economy principles. We are aiming to find new markets for plastics, crushed brick and glass fines in our roads and pavements.

You too can take the pledge an individual or for your business. The best thing about acting to protect the world we live in is that many of these actions will benefit your back pocket or bottom line. 

It’s up to all of use to help shape a better state of the future; a circular future.

Stan Krpan is Chief Executive Officer at Sustainability Victoria

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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