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Your complete guide to a Circular Economy

You and I have changed the face of the Earth. For centuries humans have thrived in a throwaway economy, where the unquestioned mentality of we want, we take, we use and then we discard has been embedded into our expectations of everyday convenience. Once falling into the buzz word category, ‘circular economy’ has crept into our vocabulary, strategic plans and conversation as we become increasingly aware of our reliance on the world’s ecosystems in recent years.  

Our use of the world’s resources is linear in nature, where materials flow in a straight line – from extraction to design, manufacturing, consumption, and eventually, waste. The pressure from our growing global population and rapid expansion of global trade and urbanisation has resulted in the exploitation and destruction of the environment and resources at an unprecedented rate.  

Enter the circular economy. Put simply, a circular economy focuses on reuse, recycling, responsible manufacturing and waste management to deliver more sustainable outcomes. 

The investment in and integration of circular economies by industry leaders and government authorities are contributing towards environmental sustainability by addressing climate change and biodiversity loss, creating economic prosperity and new employment opportunities and reducing waste –  and our communities, our planet and our businesses are reaping the benefits. 

Community participation  

A successful and enduring circular economy is not founded in a silo. Informing, consulting, collaborating and empowering stakeholders, including legislators, suppliers, distributors and customers, is critical for success in meeting both consumer needs and legislative requirements.

Customer demand 

Consumers speak with their wallets. In recent years, consumer mindsets have shifted towards more sustainable and eco-friendly products that are longer lasting and moved further away from throwaway products. Repair, refurbishment and recycling services are growing in popularity. These strong trends will encourage businesses to meet the demand and distinguish themselves by designing products with a circular economy approach. 

Investors

Many businesses, specifically within the resource sector, are racing towards their net zero targets and transitioning to carbon reduction or elimination. Shareholders can embrace the principles of a circular economy by using their voting rights to eradicate waste, meet legislative requirements and provide for current and future consumer demand.  For businesses, this means communicating effectively and authentically about their efforts in this area is more important than ever before. 

Government frameworks  

With the spotlight well and truly on the issue of sustainability and the pressure on finite resources, governments around the world have stepped up to introduce legislative frameworks and support programs that underpin the circular economy. 

Product Stewardship

Whether voluntary, mandatory or shared with industry, product stewardship schemes support the successful environmental management of products and materials over their useful lifetime, including disposal. The concept infers that the responsibility of waste management and minimising a product’s environmental impact sits with the manufacturer or seller rather than the government. 

In Australia, Federal Government accreditation is available, and businesses can apply for financial support to set up new product stewardship arrangements.  

China National Sword Policy 

From the early 90s until 2018, 50 per cent of the world’s recyclable waste was being dumped on China to process. As the largest importer of recyclable materials, China accepted more than 30 million tonnes of waste every year, with 1.25 million tonnes from Australia alone between 2016 and 2017. The arrangement came to a sudden halt on January 1, 2018, when China implemented its National Sword Policy restricting the importation of solid waste to the nation’s recycling processors. From this point, developed nations could no longer rely on China as their easy-fix solution and now faced the new challenge of how to process their own recyclable waste. 

National Waste Policy – Action Plan 2019 

In need of an immediate and innovative response to managing Australia’s waste and resource recovery, an updated National Waste Policy was published in December 2018. The policy supports businesses and households to better manage material flows to benefits our health, the environment and the economy; and the National Waste Action Plan, introduced in 2019, creates targets and actions to drive the policy forward.  

Since its publication, we’ve seen a transformation away from single-use plastic and towards investing in infrastructure and products that contains recycled materials including rubber, plastic and glass. Cast your memory back to mid-2018, when the Western Australian Government introduced a ban on lightweight plastic bags at WA retailers. All states and territories, with the exception of NSW, now have bag bans in place. 

The Western Australian Government has brought forward a plan to abolish single-use plastics by the end of this year. That means from 2023, you will need to have a keep-cup handy with plastic-lined coffee cups and lids banned alongside plastic plates, bowls, cups, cutlery, produce bags and microbeads.

About the author

Siobhan Poupard is an Account Manager with Cannings Purple’s Stakeholder Engagement team, with expertise in community relations, stakeholder strategy and corporate communications. To find out how we can assist you  in navigating the circular economy, contact Shiv 

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