The City of Greater Bendigo is home to over 120,00 people and Victoria's third largest economic base.
The city's landfill is set to reach capacity in the next 12 months.
To combat waste and tackle emissions, the council has developed one of the first circular procurement policies in the country.
Bendigo is a large regional city smack bang in the middle of Victoria. Located on Dja Dja Wurrung and Taungurung Country in the Murray Darling Basin, the industry hub is skirted by parkland, nature reserves and river catchments, giving it the nickname "city in the forest". Pressures on this beautiful natural environment include a growing population of over 120,000 people and a need for future-proofed resource management infrastructure — Greater Bendigo's landfill is set to fill up by 2022-23.
In an effort to reduce its overall material footprint, the City of Greater Bendigo council is embracing circularity. The council is looking at upstream and downstream solutions to close material loops and reduce embodied carbon across the city. As part of this strategy, the council has introduced one of the first circular procurement policies in Australia.
We sat down with Dr Scott T. Bryant, Circular Economy Coordinator at the City of Greater Bendigo, to talk about the goals set out in the policy and getting council on board with circular economy initiatives.
"I’m the Circular Economy Coordinator at the City of Greater Bendigo and have the pleasure of poking my nose into all aspects of material and resource use in the organisation. I've been at the City for exactly one pandemic now, the new SI measurement of time. In more general terms, I've been in Bendigo since March 2020. Originally from Brisbane, I've spent the past decade abroad working in the sustainable transitions space, initially on renewables and most recently on delivering the Scottish Government's circular economy strategy as part of Zero Waste Scotland.
With my 'circular' hat on, I would say that the role of the City, and local government more broadly, is a multifaceted one that is ultimately about delivering and facilitating tangible circular economy outcomes for communities and supporting businesses and community organisations to do the same. There is a great power, often under-utilised, with local government to act as the civic-duty representation of the community and use its enduring presence — societal collapse notwithstanding — to be a force for good, rather than a passive institution."
"Circularity provides an alternative way of looking at and dealing with some of the community's biggest challenges i.e., what should the City do with the region's waste(d) resources and how can we change the status quo which has struggled to envisage a future without landfill?
The City sits across both the upstream and downstream elements of the circular economy. It's responsible for managing downstream waste(d) resources and finding higher-value solutions to recirculate these materials, but it is also a driver of upstream circularity. Specifically, it has great buying power as a 'consumer' to demand and inspire change through its own design and procurement habits. It also provides mechanisms to support regional businesses and organisations in adopting and providing circular services and solutions.
Finally, as a public institution, the City has a great opportunity to use its position in the community to try and catalyse positive action and get the circularity ball rolling."
"Setting aside the elephant in the room that is the region's rapidly filling sole remaining landfill — nothing like physical reality to catalyse action — if the City carried on with business as usual, it risked cementing a 'not our problem' mentality in the region. This view mistreats and undervalues resources and misses social and economic opportunities to apply circularity. With the creation and disposal of 'stuff' representing 45 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions, and embodied carbon being far harder to tackle than electricity and fuel use, there's no time to waste in tackling the status quo head-on. Ultimately, we can't recycle our way out of the climate crisis."
"The City has taken a multi-pronged approach to developing a circular Greater Bendigo. The diagram below links the main opportunity areas for the City and what we're trying to do. In short, we're attempting to develop solutions and infrastructure to recirculate and valorise downstream resources, whilst providing demand-side pull for circular solutions through our purchasing power and supporting local businesses to develop such solutions."
"More broadly, we've embedded circular economy as a key facet of our latest climate change strategy."
It's all well and good to go renewable, but if we don't also tackle embodied carbon, let alone the land-use impacts of the food and 'stuff' we consume, we're cooked.
"Developing and implementing circularity in Greater Bendigo has been a bit like building the aeroplane whilst trying to take off. Establishing senior management openness to at least exploring the concept has required the simultaneous education of our executive team as to what the circular economy is — i.e. we're not just talking 'waste' — whilst developing, gaining support for and implementing the first, of hopefully many, downstream CE infrastructure solutions AND looking at ways to adapt the organisations own design and procurement behaviour. Initial steps were looking at key opportunities for change across three areas of City influence, which complement each other:
Opportunities to influence the City's own behaviour — project design, procurement and delivery and our ability to incentivise upstream CE solutions as a major buyer in the area.
Opportunities to support local organisations in developing CE approaches, in addition to getting the basics right with resource recovery.
Opportunities to influence downstream CE solutions through our resource recovery operations and 'waste' contracts — post-landfill solutions we could implement.
Technical understanding of both upstream and downstream aspects of CE is really helpful. It's best to try and bridge the divide early so CE isn't seen as 'just a waste thing' or 'just an economic development thing' or 'just a sustainability thing' within the organisation. This is still a constant conversation we're having here in Greater Bendigo.
Pretty much every stakeholder 'type' was seen as crucial to this discussion. As a local council commencing a foray into the big-wide-circular-world we needed to engage with state and federal level government organisations, other local councils, current suppliers and contractors, the local community and colleagues from all units and departments within our own organisation.”
"We're reaching the pointy-end of a year-long procurement process to establish the first tranche of 'post-landfill' circular economy solutions to handle some of the major downstream material flows. The hopeful aim is to use these solutions as the anchor points of CE Hubs for the region, with the City working with the region to then establish additional CE solutions, both upstream and downstream, at these sites.
Internally, we've implemented a Circular Economy and Zero Waste Policy to start to normalise the use of reused/repurposed/recycled content products and materials in our designs and projects. A key target from this policy is ensuring:
That all projects and contracts require the submission of a circular option (instead of, or alongside their 'business as usual' proposal).
And, that proposed products/materials need to be recyclable at end-of-life (or justify the need for an exception).
We've set ourselves a target of 2023/24 for 100 per cent of City projects and contracts to include these requirements. The policy is the start of a journey to normalise this ask of our suppliers and contractors to come up with CE solutions for us — putting their expertise to work for the circular economy.
The key shift here, which is still a work in progress, has been embedding this policy seamlessly within our existing procurement framework; making this 'business as usual' for all colleagues, rather than requiring everyone to be a circular economy expert, including necessary CE 'asks' within all procurement templates, schedule wordings, etc.
We learned this from the historic difficulty we had in implementing environmentally sustainable requirements in procurement. Either it was too complex, and staff couldn’t assess it properly, or it was so vague that anyone could get credit for something as basic as an environmental management plan.
A piece of advice: make the CE ask mandatory, with caveats where necessary, but in the first instance make it assessable within the existing procurement assessment framework.
Overall, procurement colleagues are often keen to support, and have seen similar sustainability initiatives fail to gain traction over the years, so it’s vital to help them do the heavy lifting to get CE procurement over the line. Similarly, most staff are receptive to adopting CE procurement processes, but just need to be brought along on the journey and informed as to how this relates to existing operations and processes."
"The CE question is: what is a useful target to have? The City historically has had a zero-waste target for 2036, along with net zero emissions, but accountability has been tough. The City tripled its emissions from 2011-2020, rather than halving it as per its previous environmental strategy. We've begun qualitatively exploring measures of procured circular goods through better data reporting in our systems, whilst looking at means to track our embodied carbon/environmental footprint, alongside our normal Scope 1 and 2 emissions reporting. It's a work in progress that we're developing as we go, as we don't have time to get the reporting perfect before getting down to work.
The sheer interconnectedness of CE across the organisation has really helped galvanise organisational focus on our broader climate change and sustainability targets. This has historically been seen as pigeonholed into the Environment Team, but with CE working across multiple units and impacting on most areas of the organisation, it's been a great tool to show the need for 'all hands on deck'. This has also shown itself to be true with how quickly CE was accepted as a key pillar of our latest Climate Change and Environment Strategy. CE is a great entry-point to tough conversations about embodied carbon (Scope 3) and the environmental impact of our stuff.
I’m really hoping that the City can both normalise the everyday use of CE in the region and kick-start opportunities for residents, organisations and businesses in this space. More practically, I'm keen to see our circular procurement policy go from strength to strength and hopefully see our circular economy hubs come to fruition in a post-landfill environment here in Greater Bendigo."
"There's no time like the present. Local government is rapidly becoming the bleeding-edge for implementing necessary sustainable societal and economic change. No one is going to swoop in and develop a sustainable, circular future for us, so we need to get cracking now. Some serious state and federal legislation to disincentivise emissions and non-recycled material use wouldn't hurt though! We're in a defining decade for mitigating the worst of the climate crisis, and everyone needs to push on and take responsibility, especially in an extremely well-off and wasteful country like Australia that's literally occupying an entire continent."