Moving the circular economy from buzzword to action - Planet Ark Environmental Foundation

Moving the circular economy from buzzword to action

By Jacqui Bonnitcha   October 12th, 2020

Edge Environment's Head of Circular Economy and Lifecycle Thinking, Jacqui Bonnitcha, looks at practical circular economy action in Australia.

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Planet Ark is proud to announce Edge Environment as the first Technical Supporters of the Australian Circular Economy Hub. The Edge team have a wealth of knowledge and expertise in the circular economy space and we are excited to be working closely with them as we continue our mission to facilitate the transition to a circular economy in Australia. To celebrate this exciting announcement, Edge Environment's Head of Circular Economy and Lifecycle Thinking, Jacqui Bonnitcha, penned this article about circular economy action in Australia.

After years of circular economy being little more than a buzzword or a workshop title, we finally seem to have crossed a threshold into it becoming a framework for practical action.

That’s not, of course, to say that nothing has happened up to now. There are stewardship schemes in place for a range of problem products; property developers have started to integrate circular economy into their design process; and some innovative business models have emerged. At a government level, grants schemes have supported the development of networks and the implementation of pilot projects; research has been commissioned and published; and visions have been set. But it’s all felt quite fragmented and tentative.

Today, you don’t have to look far to see a vastly different landscape rapidly taking shape. Across the corporate space, a small but growing number of companies have published far-reaching circular economy strategies and a host of high-profile businesses now have dedicated circular economy managers.

Councils are diving in head-first too, having grasped the fact that the transition to a circular economy offers an opportunity to create jobs and create economies that are fit for the future. For example, it was great to see the City of Greater Bendigo go out to market seeking expressions of interest from circular economy solutions providers and the Illawarra Shoalhaven Joint Organisation commission a study to identify the economic opportunities associated with a circular timber sector.

State Governments are also in on the act. Earlier this year we saw the Victorian Government publish its circular economy strategy, making a host of commitments including the formation of a Circular Economy Business Innovation Centre to support and drive businesses action. In South Australia, the Government has moved to ban single-use plastics as part of its push on circular economy, while we’re waiting with anticipation for the upcoming 20 Year Waste Strategy here in NSW.

But while that’s all very positive, there is little doubt that the process needs to be accelerated in terms of breadth and depth. Australia has one of the highest per capita rates of resource use in the world and action on circular economy is far behind leading nations such as The Netherlands. If Australia is to play its role in slowing down the world’s spiralling resource use, within a few short years we need every major company to have embedded circular economy principles into the way they do business; every council to be actively building circular economies; and all levels of government to have moved beyond warm words and strategies and into a phase of rapid action, regulation and investment.

Part of the problem, up to now, has been that we’re a nation of (somewhat) fast followers. Once someone’s shown that something works, ideally someone Australian, we’ll happily run with it and do it pretty well. But with circular economy concepts being so new and transformative, that has led to paralysis as everyone waited to see who went first. No company wanted to publish a plan only to be lambasted for not doing enough and no council wanted to be the one accused of wasting public funds on an initiative that didn’t work. That needs to change, and it is changing, but not fast enough.

Which is why the creation of the Australian Circular Economy Hub by Planet Ark is so valuable. Launching on 24 November, the ACE Hub will help break down some of those barriers: allowing organisations to share experiences, more easily find examples of good practice, find and showcase circular products and services and gain access to leading research. In doing so, it has the potential to play a transformative role, helping us all to overcome the inertia and fear that might otherwise hinder progress.

That’s why we’ve chosen to become a Technical Partner. We’ve been working on the circular economy for many years, but the Hub offers an opportunity to amplify our impact. We’re looking forward to applying our analytical expertise to solve common problems, establishing metrics, sharing the knowledge we’ve gained from working on practical projects and supporting organisations that are looking to innovate and disrupt the status quo.

It’s an exciting time. Our circular economy team’s stated aim this year is to be known as a catalyst for practical change. Working with Planet Ark, that goal seems very much within reach.

The ACE Hub officially launches on November 24 with an online event that will be live broadcast from the Sydney Opera House. Join us for a morning of talks from some of the brightest minds in the Australian and international Circular Economy space. Head here for more information and to secure your ticket.

Subscribe to the Australian Circular Economy Hub newsletter for the latest circular economy stories and updates on the ACE Hub.

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Jacqui Bonnitcha

Head of Circular Economy and Lifecycle Thinking at Edge Environment

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