Photo by Nareeta Martin

The idea of a circular economy began to take off in 2017 when several reports were released outlining benefits such as reduced emissions, efficient use of natural resources, and the creation of new jobs and industries. Now that China has stopped importing foreign recyclables, Australia needs to find a way to manage its waste, and fast.

What is a circular economy?  

Put simply, a circular economy moves away from the traditional linear production line of take, make, dispose. Instead, it focuses on reducing waste at every stage – from design to distribution to disposal. See the video for a condensed summary in the context of plastic recycling.   

Recycling: the opportunities and benefits for Australia  

Food security and self-sufficiency   

Nitrogen and phosphorus are widely used in gardening and agriculture across Australia. While there are no shortages of phosphate rock right now, Australia’s reserves account for only 1% of the world’s supply, which could prove risky to food security. Despite the importance of the nutrient, current usage of phosphorus is highly wasteful, with only 5% of mined phosphate rock going towards human consumption. This combined with the need for the agriculture industry to find a better manure management solution has presented Australia with a unique opportunity. According to a report released by KMPG, Australia could see a multitude of benefits by transforming its agriculture waste streams into nutrient-dense fertilisers. By doing this Australia could gain the following benefits:  

  • Create $125 million dollars in revenue by making nutrient-dense soil improvers from agricultural waste. This would reduce dependency on imported fertilisers and boost food security.   
  • Resolve the conundrum of storing 5.4 million tonnes of piggery waste and saving $93 million dollars in the process. This also reduces the risks of improper manure disposal such as soil and groundwater pollution.  

Creating new jobs and industries   

A roadmap released by CSIRO last week outlined how Australia can triple its job creation by increasing the rate of resource recovery. The recycling sector currently generates 9.2 jobs per 10, 000 tonnes of waste while only 2.8 jobs are generated when the same amount of waste is sent to landfill. The science body claims that a 5 per cent increase in recovery rates will add $1 billion to GDP. It is estimated that 150 000 jobs could be created as early as 2025 if Australia were to take significant steps towards a circular economy. Many of these jobs would be created by initiatives in building, transport, manufacturing, and recycling.  

Turning (recycled) trash into treasure 

Australia is currently throwing billions of dollars into landfill. Every year the nation loses out on $419 million by not recycling PET and HDPE plastics and $115 million by not recycling paper. $2.5 billion in lost economic opportunity will be lost by 2036 by not recycling lithium.

Early adopters of the circular economy model are enjoying the economic advantages that come along with it. For example, smart organisations are choosing to mine their precious metals from recycled resources such as e-waste and textiles instead of buying finite natural resources – and it’s easy to see why:   

  • Every tonne of recycled steel saves 1131kg of iron ore, 633kg of coal, and 54 kg of limestone.  
  • Recycled copper is worth 90 per cent of its original value and can be recycled indefinitely. Every tonne of recycled copper saves 3.4 tonnes of C02, 36 GJ of energy (equivalent to the monthly consumption of 20 houses), 6kL of water, and 1.1 tonnes of waste.   

Enjoying the benefits of a circular economy starts with identifying opportunities in your supply chain. Our solution – STAMP Supply gives clients traceability, transparency, and trust over every facet of their supply chain. Contact us to see how we can help or to book a free demo.