5 TAKEAWAYS | NSW EPA Circular Economy Programs – Real change from local communities to big cities
As Australia moves towards a more sustainable future with increased efforts in recycling and waste-management, circular economy initiatives have increased.
With a circular economy, a systemic approach to economic development is designed to benefit businesses, society, and the environment. By reusing rather than discarding materials, we move from a linear to a circular economy designed to reduce waste and pollution, keep products and materials in use and regenerate natural systems.
Kathy Giunta from the NSW Environment Protection Authority opened the panel session with a brief overview of the ‘on the ground’ action supported by the NSW Government working towards a circular economy. NSW have been working on elements of the circular economy for years primarily through their Waste Less, Recycle More initiative which they have been rolling out since 2012.
The initiative is focused on resource recovery with some investment in innovation, waste avoidance and reuse. Their goal is to move towards a circular economy in a way which provides long term economic, social and environment benefits for NSW. At this point Kathy invited our speakers, all of who are working with NSW Environment Protection Authority, to share their great work in supporting a circular economy.
Our panellists came from innovative businesses, industry, not for profits, councils and community groups who have successfully tackled major challenges in waste management.
“What actions can we take today to stem the flow of plastics ending up in our oceans and landfills”, says Samantha Cross of Cross Connections Consulting Pty Ltd who has been hailed an earlier pioneer in supporting a circular economy. “In 2015 I knew I could make a difference and a role I could play”, she continues. Sam’s strong desire to reduce and better manage end-of-life plastic waste drove her to form her business Plastic Police®. Her story started in her child’s primary school where she was frustrated at how much single-use packaging was being put into the bins at home and school. In her first trial the soft plastic collected by the local primary school was made into a bench seat, and from there schools and businesses nationwide wanted to get involved and Plastic Police® took off.
Sam believes that we can all take action, no matter how small, to better manage soft plastic waste, and is passionate about environmental education and helping communities and organisations to rethink waste and reduce their soft plastics. “Plastic Police® is helping more organisations to reduce, recycle and to also repurchase Australian made recycled products. Our blueprint for soft plastics provides a framework and outlines the key steps organisations can take.” As Plastic Police® continues to grow, more schools are actively taking steps to waste less and recycle more. The Plastic Police® Starter Pack has been designed to help schools set up and run a successful soft plastic and recycling and reduction program. “Ultimately we want to empower everyone to take action”, adds Sam.
Dunlop Flooring is committed to playing its part in reducing landfill and society’s impact on the environment. As explained by Joe Fernandes, their recycling program ‘Recycle by Dunlop’ encourages retailers to return their used underlay to Dunlop where they recycle and reuse recycled content within their underlay products. “We process at our plant approximately 10,000 tonnes of scrap foam that if we didn’t use in underlay would have found its way to landfill”, says Joe.
The old or discarded foam underlay is collected from post-industrial and post-consumer sites where it is cleaned, sorted and recycled into new usable underlay by Dunlop Flooring. The brand new recycled underlay is then passed on to the retailer and they are proudly distributing their product up and down the country, however according to Joe there’s more that can be done, “The challenges we face are communication and creating awareness to the consumer sector the separation of foam from carpet because we can’t process polyester and woolen carpet. We collect 20% of what we manufacture so there’s 80% of scrap foam that we could recover with more awareness.”
University of Sydney: Mushroom casing and trials
Adam Goldwater from Applied Horticultural Research represents the Marsh Lawson Mushroom Research Centre at the University of Sydney. The MLMRC is a world-class facility dedicated to research that drives innovation, adopt best practice and tackle issues in the mushroom industry. As explained by Adam, the centre is looking into the use of recycled organics which are composted into a product to be used in mushroom production. Peat moss is an unsustainable, unrenewable product which is currently a major input into mushroom production. Peat mining contributes 10% of greenhouse gases in agriculture and as such the industry are keen to look at an alternative.
Adam confirms that as a result peat may become more difficult to obtain and increasingly expensive. Compost made from recycled organics is approximately one third of the cost of peat and has many similar properties. The University of Sydney have undertaken three trials blending peat and recycled organics compost made from green bin garden organics collections at 0%, 25%, 75% and 100%. It was found that 25%-50% blends produced similar yields and quality to peat. Adam summarises that using a 50% RO and 50% peat blend can save a grower 33% on the cost of casing and improved sustainability of the mushroom industry. Two growers in NSW have trialed the compost made from recycled organic in their casing and more growers are interested in the trials.
Kim Potter from North East Waste represents a group of councils on the North Coast of New South Wales who work together towards cost-effective waste management solutions. According to Kim from over 1,800 Northern Rivers businesses close to 50% of the C&I waste stream is food waste and there’s much to be gained from shifting food and organic waste to the circular economy. “In essence its the most viable and immediate opportunity to close the loop”, says Kim.
North East Waste leads a collective of Northern River foodie business that are redefining their current business models to one that embraces the benefits of a circular economy. The Circular Cafes project was developed to support effective food waste solutions, waste avoidance education and improving circularity of resources supporting a substantial reduction of food waste to landfill in the Northern Rivers. Kim explains “By working together with businesses, member councils and waste service providers, we aim to divert 726 tonnes of food waste away from landfill in the next 12 months.”
As well as the goal of halving the food waste going to landfill from these food businesses, Kim says there are many more outcomes from the movement such as driving behaviour change, capacity building across supply chains and increasing demand for improved services from councils and waste providers. “We’ve built an aspirational brand, one that businesses want to be identified with and are proud to represent”, adds Kim.
Kathy Giunta, NSW Environment Protection Authority
Samantha Cross, Cross Connections Consulting Pty Ltd
Adam Goldwater, Applied Horticultural Research
Joe Fernandes, Dunlop Flooring
Kim Potter, North East Waste