A landmark industry-wide seminar led by Engineers Australia unearthed how to best achieve circularity in the built environment.
On 25 May 2023, Engineers Australia co-hosted a circular economy industry roundtable, led by CEO Romilly Madew AO, Lisa McLean, CEO, Circular Australia and Dr Dominique Hes, Zero Carbon Buildings Lead, City of Melbourne – all members of the Federal Government’s Circular Economy Ministerial Advisory Group. The aim of the roundtable was to navigate Australia’s transition to circularity.
Nearly 60 industry, academic and government leaders came together to discuss how to achieve a circular economy for the built environment and reduce carbon emissions.
“Without doubt a phase shift to a circular economy in practice is inevitable,” said Madew.
“It was inspiring to see so many industry leaders and experts attend our joint round table event on the circular economy, all providing insights and in-depth knowledge with an aligned purpose.”
Bringing industry leaders together
The insights from the roundtable will be put to good use, informing the Ministerial Advisory Group on how to guide Australia’s transition to a more circular economy by 2030.
Madew is one of 15 members of the Ministerial Advisory Group, appointed by the Minister for the Environment and Water. The group meets every quarter to discuss a themed work plan presented by each expert.
“Australia’s pathway to a circular economy will be one of the defining issues of the decade and my involvement with the Ministerial Advisory Group ensures the voice of engineers will be included in shaping that pathway,” she said.
Madew will join forces with Dr Hes and McLean to present the next session – circular economy in the built environment and carbon emissions.
Ahead of this – Engineers Australia hosted the roundtable to capture the breadth and depth of industry’s needs.
“We received support from the Ministerial Advisory Group to host an industry forum, but the idea was that we wanted to hear from industry,” said Engineers Australia Senior Policy Advisor – Climate Change, Simon Koger.
“Dr Hes crafted a survey, which went out to all Engineers Australia members as well as other external stakeholders, around a series of critical questions we needed to address as part of participating in the Advisory Group process.”
Koger then crafted a discussion paper based on a comprehensive desktop review and the survey insights to guide the roundtable discussions.
In terms of achieving circularity, several key themes arose from the survey and roundtable which will be represented in detail at the Ministerial Advisory Group meeting in August.
In general, however, there was a unanimous view that there should be more regulation in adopting circularity, with a view to vastly improving both the uptake and availability of recycled materials.
“At the moment, some state governments have a procurement condition that mandates a minimum recycled content percentage for new projects,” said Koger.
“But when procurement teams attempt to undertake this, there’s often difficulty in finding available recycled material, or it’s too expensive to get the available waste material reclassified as a new material for reuse.”
Identifying ways to reclassify waste products as secondary materials would both facilitate faster uptake and bring costs down.
“That’s where you get things like industrial symbiosis and industrial ecology where businesses are co-located together to benefit from each other’s waste streams. Generated heat, energy, and/or waste materials are used as inputs for different manufacturing processes,” said Koger.
“A really succinct, symbiotic set of businesses that feed off each other will be the way of the future.”
However, a central data hub is crucial to setting industry’s behaviour change in motion. “We need to know who’s using what, when, where and how,” he added.
Industry firmly on board
Hosting events such as the roundtable is the perfect way to change perceptions of waste while gauging industry’s readiness and willingness to embrace circularity.
“The way we treat our wastes is fundamentally wrong,” said Koger. “We only see them as wastes, and once something is a waste, it’s very difficult to repurpose it.”
But one message was clear from the roundtable: industry is wholeheartedly on board with circularity.
“We had people there from all different walks of life, who all echoed the need for consistent and improved regulation for circular economy to be adopted economy wide,” said Koger.
“At the end of the day, it’s also about business efficiency. If we can find a way to save upfront and ongoing expenditure, that’s a win-win for everyone, including for the environment and our material flows.”
As low producers and vast consumers, there’s an urgent need to rethink design, the secondary market and procurement to drive change towards a more circular future in Australia.
“As people realise the decarbonisation agenda is urgent and it needs to be transformative, that entails looking at material flows, inputs and outputs across the economy,” he said.
Climate Smart Engineering 2023 (CSE23) will be held 29-30 November 2023 at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre. Learn more about the conference and register here.