The CSIRO has released a roadmap to creating jobs and reclaiming billions in economic value from plastic, glass, paper and tyres currently sent to landfill.
The National Circular Economy Roadmap found innovation is crucial to realising Australia’s largest economic gains, which will come from designing new products and materials, including through advanced manufacturing, and in embracing new business models that will create domestic and export markets for waste streams.
Australia loses $419 million every year by not recycling PET and HDPE plastics, while some 1642 kilotonnes of paper sent to landfill each year equates to $115 million. Sending lithium from batteries to landfill will result in a lost economic opportunity of up to $2.5 billion by 2036, according to the CSIRO, while the nation spends around $70 million per year cleaning up dumped waste.
The roadmap aims to reduce the total waste generated in Australia by 10 per cent per person by 2030, and to achieve an 80 per cent average resource recovery rate from all waste streams applying the waste hierarchy by 2030.
Increasing Australia’s resource recovery rate by just 5 per cent would add an estimated $1 billion to GDP, while it could more than triple job creation from resource recovery. The recycling sector currently generates 9.2 jobs per 10,000 t of waste, compared with only 2.8 jobs for the same amount of waste sent to landfill.
The issue has come into sharp focus recently, with a study finding that by 2050, it is predicted that there will be more plastic than fish in the world’s oceans. The COVID-19 pandemic has also highlighted the issue of linear models of manufacturing and waste.
A technological approach
The crisis in Australian recycling came to a head in 2018, when China announced its decision to ban imports of recyclable waste from all over the world. China had been handling nearly half the world’s waste for more than 20 years. A circular economy is now the only viable alternative.
CSIRO chief executive, Dr Larry Marshall, said that science and technology present significant economic opportunities.
“Australia is among the world’s best in advanced manufacturing and environmental research, and that unique science can turn industry and environment into partners by making sustainability profitable,” Dr Marshall said.
“Science can transform our economy into a circular one that renews and reuses what we previously discarded, and indeed a virtuous circle that creates higher paid jobs, advances new Australian technology, and protects our environment.”
The roadmap identifies six elements for moving towards a circular economy of plastics, paper, glass and tyres:
- Retain material through use and collection
- Upscale and innovate recycling technologies
- Innovate and collaborate in design and manufacture
- Develop markets for secondary materials and the products that use them
- Streamline nationally consistent governance
- Secure a national zero waste culture
The CSIRO is also working with partners in industry, universities and government, including a mission to end plastic waste, a mission to transform Australian mineral commodities into higher-value products, and a mission to transition to net zero emissions.
Eye on manufacturing
Project leader Dr Heinz Schandl said the roadmap was commissioned by the Federal Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources and developed in collaboration with 83 industry, research and government partners.
“Our traditional ‘take-make-dispose’ consumption pattern is hitting two walls: ever-more-expensive primary materials, and ever-more-unacceptable ways of dealing with waste,” Dr Schandl said.
“The global pandemic has disrupted global supply chains which challenges Australia to be self-sufficient with sovereign manufacturing capability.”