Speech: Innovation in the Circular Economy 2022

Speech: Innovation in the Circular Economy 2022 Main Image

By Terri Butler

28 October 2022

"This is an exciting time to be an evangelist for the circular economy. As I said our own research shows us that consumer interest is surging. It was also wonderful to see the acknowledgement of the importance of circular economy in the communique from last week’s meeting of environment ministers, and the commitment to circular economy in this week’s federal Budget."

Congratulations on a terrific conference. I have had the opportunity to see the agenda and the wealth of talent you have had in the room. It is a great privilege to be part of the conference, at tonight’s dinner.

Thanks particularly to Mr Nick Haskins and Prof Ben Eggleton for allowing me to be a part of this conference, and to Dr Don McCallum for his engagement with me in the lead up to this evening.

About Circular Australia

Circular Australia is an independent, national body. We were NSW Circular, and in that capacity we built a strong relationship with NSSN. Now, we have widened our ambition and are looking across the country for opportunities to build support for circular economy, which is how we came to have a Queenslander as the chair. I am very pleased to lead the board and to work, in that capacity, alongside Lisa Mclean, Niall Blair, Jason Graham Nye, Louise Thurgood Phillips, Joyanne Manning, Jodie Bricout, Alex Cramb, and Ian Overton and Katie Dowling in governance roles with Circular Australia. It’s a group full of expertise, skills, and vigour. And you have seen during this conference how fortunate we are to have Lisa continuing as CEO and executive director.

Circular Australia is on a mission to influence governments, businesses and industry. We want to champion circular economy. We want to drive change, measure impact and accelerate the circular economy transition.

Our work is known to many of you.

Like our early work in relation to clinical waste in NSW hospitals. NSW Circular found that if 40 – 60% of clinical waste was recycled, the savings would be the equivalent of funding forty nurses. NSW hospitals alone generate around 52,400 tonnes of clinical waste – about the same weight as the Sydney Harbour Bridge. This work generated a keen interest from health providers in finding opportunities for their waste to form part of manufacturing supply chains.

You may also have seen the work we’re doing with Sydney Water on circular economy opportunities, including our reports on opportunities in Western Sydney, and on unlocking the value of food waste.

One of our most recent events was the joint launch, with the Commonwealth Bank, of a report on consumer insights. It shows a surging consumer interest in circular economy. We are very excited about the opportunities that come with working with large corporates in Australia because they have the scale to help drive change which leads to positives that go beyond the immediate.

It is important to us that as a not-for-profit national body our work contributes to the pool of knowledge and experience, and assists with the broad uptake of and scaling of circular strategies, beyond any single partner.

We also believe that measuring is important. In two weeks we will launch a national dialogue on Circular Economy Metrics. We can’t wait to release our latest circular economy metrics research, conducted in partnership with the UTS Institute for Sustainable Futures (ISF), University of Technology Sydney. This will be done via an online session and I hope you will join us for it.

This is an exciting time to be an evangelist for the circular economy. As I said our own research shows us that consumer interest is surging. It was also wonderful to see the acknowledgement of the importance of circular economy in the communique from last week’s meeting of environment ministers, and the commitment to circular economy in this week’s federal Budget.

Governments are right to recognise the opportunities that come with circular economy. It is terrific to see the environment ministers of all of the jurisdictions acknowledging that it’s not enough to have a waste strategy: we need to scale up circular economy.

Local governments will also have a massive part in driving circular economy. We see that already, including through the work that water managers are doing to find circular economy opportunities in municipally run or owned water utilities. And we also see that in the keen interest that councils have in relation to finding efficiencies in managing waste, and in reducing waste.

Through all of the commitment we see – from governments, industry, business, and importantly, research, it is important to acknowledge that we can amplify the benefit of this work through collaboration. Events like this are so important because they bring people together across jurisdictions, disciplines, organisations and sectors, allowing for us all to be surrounded by ideas, sparking inspiration for innovation and application in different contexts.

I expect many if not all of you will have come away from the past two days feeling energised and expired, having been exposed to new ideas and perhaps even learning about new resources. I am always excited to hear of new products able to be designed and manufactured from non-virgin resources, because not only can these produces make a direct contribution to scaling up the circular economy, they also demonstrate to the public the real and tangible opportunities that exist.

These real and tangible opportunities can help make real, in the public imagination, some of the high level ambitions that are adopted in public and international life.

As you know the Sustainable development goals are often invoked in thinking about the importance of circular economy.

Circular economy is of direct and obvious relevance to goal 12, responsible production and consumption.

In The Relevance of Circular Economy Practices to the Sustainable Development Goals, Patrick Schroeder, Kartika Anggraeni and Uwe Weber said that CE practices, potentially, can contribute directly to achieving a significant number of SDG targets. They said

“The strongest relationships exist between CE practices and the targets of SDG 6 (Clean Water and Sanitation), SDG 7 (Affordable and Clean Energy), SDG 8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth), SDG 12 (Responsible Consumption and Production), and SDG 15 (Life on Land).”

And they went on to acknowledge that circular economy practices could also contribute to a broader range of SDGs.

In their article More than Just SDG 12: How Circular Economy can Bring Holistic Wellbeing, Ana Birliga Sutherland (Editor, Circle Economy) and Ilektra Kouloumpi (Thriving Cities Lead, Circle Economy) noted the link to some of the goals I’ve just mentioned, and said “but we’re confident that a circular economy could also support other, more socially-related goals as well — such as SDG 1 (no poverty), SDG 2 (zero hunger), SDG 3 (good health and wellbeing), SDG 5 (gender equality) and SDG 10 (reduced inequalities).”

They went on to say:

“Going beyond material use, the circular economy can improve on practices that emit greenhouse gases and pollute air, water and soil. If implemented in an integrated manner, it can also help shape a more just, equitable world, bringing more equal access to resources, equity among minorities and a range of safe, decent jobs. While circularity has a clear link with some SDGs—especially those in environmental or economic spheres—its connection to others also hints at enormous potential: when applied in a holistic manner, a global circular economy can drive the achievement of the SDGs.”

We should take significant heart and inspiration from thinking in this way. Not only will the practices we are working towards reduce carbon emissions, waste and pollution while regenerating natural systems, they will help create jobs, prosperity, justice, dignity and equality. Why not think about how changing our relationship with resource use can change our world for the better?

This is significant encouragement to keep going, keep demonstrating the value of change, and keep collaboration going.

For my own part I am very excited to be a supporter. I have been making a point of talking to everyone I can about the circular economy. Some of you may know that I lost my seat at the election this year. As is the case so often in life, this was the cause of a great more opportunity than it was disappointment. Leaving public office has allowed me to focus my energy and time on the issues I consider important. In my view everyone with a platform has a responsibility to use it to advocate for change that will make the future better.

I remember being at the University of Sydney on Bob Hawke’s 87th birthday. He was receiving his honorary doctorate. He gave the occasional address on the day, speaking to many graduates who had just received their awards. You might think someone with his incredible life story and achievements might rest on his laurels a little, on his 87th birthday, after being honoured in that way. But he would never waste a platform. The topic of his occasional address was climate change and his views on nuclear waste storage.

That was inspiring because he never wasted an opportunity and never wasted a platform. We can all learn from that. Everyone in this room has resources at their disposal to allow them to be an influence for change. We have here with us leading researchers, public sector leaders, representatives of industry and business, and representatives of excellent Australian universities. Every one of us can look for opportunities, and take advantage of the platforms we have.

Being at an event like this is part of it. Talking, networking, collaborating – all part of it. Our next step is to deploy the resources we have to increase our impact and create opportunities for change.

Australia can be a country that reaps the environmental, economic, and social benefits of scaling up the circular economy. The people in this room can help make sure that happens.

Thank you to all of you for being here. I can’t wait to see what you achieve in the future.


News photo by NSSN