Governments in Australia and elsewhere are moving away from a linear to a circular economy. The first country to move along this path was Finland in 2016.
Australian states, starting with South Australia, are also moving towards a circular economy.
So what are these two different economies? The linear economy is based on the “take, make and dispose” model. This results in wasteful use of natural resources with increasing amounts of material ending up in landfill.
A circular economy “aims to keep resources circulating in our economy to maximise value, generate local jobs and minimise waste. It can open up new markets and business models and lead to innovative resource and waste management solutions.“ (Too Good to Waste, NSW EPA discussion paper Oct. 2018)
According to this discussion paper NSW could obtain material cost savings of up to $9 billion per year.
The environmental benefits would also be significant. In a world where it is becoming increasingly obvious that natural resources are finite, it makes good environmental as well as economic sense to replace raw materials with recovered and recycled products. Such re-use also minimises potential environmental impacts from the extraction and processing of these materials.
NSW, which started moving towards a circular economy at the end of last year, published its “Circular Economy Policy Statement” in February. The policy states: “This transition will generate jobs, increase the robustness of the economy, increase the accessibility of goods, maximise the value of resources, and reduce waste.”
The policy lists eight focus areas as the priority for government action.
One of these is government and business procurement practices which will drive demand for recovered materials and reusable products.
Another relates to avoiding wasting organic resources by encouraging recovery and re-use. An example given is that donating unused food is preferable to composting, energy recovery or disposal. And another deals with responsible packaging. The aim is to reduce packaging as well as increasing its recycled content and recyclability which will drive local demand for recycled materials.
Successful transition to a circular economy will have enormous economic as well as environmental benefits.
- Leonie Blain
This article was originally published in the VOICES FOR THE EARTH column in The Daily Examiner on July 1, 2019