The circular economy in action: opportunities in the Australian context

By Lucy Jones  November 20th, 2020

How you can make the most of our shift to a circular economy.

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Australia has already begun its transition to a circular economy. With the linear economy failing both people and the planet, and the principles of a circular economy delivering social, environmental and economic benefits, there will be no going back to the way that business used to be done. In boardrooms and backyards across the country, the principles of the circular economy are already being implemented, whether that be through a closed-loop supply chain or a lawn mower borrowed from the local tool library. Here, we look at the innovation happening in the business community and in wider society. Read on for an overview of the circular opportunities that you can grab a hold of at work, at home and in the community.   

Opportunities for businesses   

The circular economy offers multiple benefits for businesses — reducing costs, creating jobs, boosting customer interest, fostering innovation and collaboration, to name just a few. Whether you are just starting out, wanting to transition an existing business to a circular model, or pitching a circular approach to your boss, there are a number of tools that you can access. The following platforms and resources will help build your knowledge of the circular economy, network with the business community and develop and implement circular solutions within your business.  

Online resources: 

The ACE Hub will act as a one-stop-shop for circular economy inspiration, education and collaboration. Our curated Knowledge Hub will provide access to the latest circular economy thinking and action from Australia and around the world. A selection of business case studies will also demonstrate how the circular economy is implemented in the real world. Other online resources in Australia include NSW Circular, whose recent strategic plan gives a comprehensive overview of the challenges and objectives in the circular economy, Circular Economy Victoria and Queensland’s Circular Economy Lab. Heading to the website of your favourite circular brand and reading their business strategy is another great way to educate yourself about the business applications of circular thinking.   

For the more academically minded, research reports are another useful tool. Last year, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) published a report in December that looks at how we can catalyse the transition to a circular economy in Australia and KPMG recently quantified the potential economic benefits of circularity across the sectors of food, transport and the built environment. A huge amount of research has also been conducted across the university sector, with Deakin University launching its own Circular Economy Initiative and RMIT setting up a Circular Economy Hub. Plus, when the ACE Hub launches, we will be sharing new research on business uptake of the circular economy in Australia (so watch this space).  

Training and education: 

There are a number of excellent circular economy consultancies operating in Australia. One is Coreo, a company that offers strategic and operational advice to help businesses implement the principles of the circular economy for clients like Mirvac, BHP and the City of Sydney council. Coreo runs regular masterclasses in understanding the circular economy and the principles of circular design. Perth-based consultancy Holonic runs CIRCULAB workshops where participants can learn about circular design, biomimicry and systems thinking. Holonic also offers tailored training programs whose content ranges from leadership and awareness development of the circular economy to strategic planning, design and innovation. 

Networking: 

With in-person events largely on hold due to COVID, the Circular Economy Slack channel is one of the most effective ways to network with those working in Australia’s circular economy. Scroll through the channel’s ‘general’ tab to get an overview the innovation that’s happening in this space. Then, head to the ‘opportunities’, ‘events’, ‘introductions’, ‘meetings’ and ‘inspiration’ threads for more. With over 250 active members, this Slack channel is a very valuable resource for anyone wanting to build relationships in Australia’s circular economy.  

Grants:  

A grant is a great way to get your circular solution off the ground. If you are based in South Australia, you can currently apply for funding through the LEAP grants program which support business ready to “take the leap” into the circular economy. While applications are currently closed, NSW also offers yearly grants to circular businesses through its Circulate program. Currently in its third year, Circular will allocate $5.46 million over six years. You can register for updates about grants in Victoria through the Sustainability Victoria website. Other states and territories may offer circular economy grants through their official website or their waste management authority’s website, both of which can usually be found with a quick Google search.  

Opportunities in the community  

Even if you don’t run a business, you can still be an active participant in the circular economy. From sharing platforms to reusable products, there are already a number of circular businesses operating in our communities. Many circular businesses operate under a ‘product-as-a-service’ model where commodities are replaced by services. (Think: Uber, clothing, bike and car rental companies and pay-as-you-go services.) Reuse is another key feature of circular business. Global companies like IKEA, who now offer to take back and resell your second-hand furniture through their buy-back service, are coming up with innovative ways to keep their products in circulation. In addition to fostering a culture of sharing and reuse, these businesses minimise resource use and waste while maximising service and customer satisfaction. In short, they are as good for the environment as they are for the user. Here’s how you can reap some of the benefits of circular business in your community today.  

Support circular businesses: 

The ACE Hub will be a fantastic resource for learning more about the circular businesses operating in your community. By supporting these companies, you are playing an important role in helping to facilitate our transition to a circular economy. From reuse and redesign to renewables and resource recovery, here are just a few of the first-movers in Australia’s circular economy: 

  • Leading the reuse revolution is KeepCup, a brand name that now stands in for all reusable cups 

  • Sustainable Salons keeps hair, foil and other by-products from the salon environment out of landfill 

  • Underwear subscription service Upparel provides a clothing take-back and recycling service 

  • BINGO Industries are leading innovation in the resource recovery sector to ensure that what we think of as waste can be transformed into valuable new products 

  • YUME Food has created an online marketplace for surplus food that would otherwise go to waste 

  • Planet Ark Power enables solar power to be harnessed, stored and shared through its cutting-edge microgrid technology 

  • Car-sharing service GoGet helps communities reduce their carbon footprint and frees up urban space in our cities   

Choose to reuse:

You might have guessed already but reusing products, instead of buying new or disposable ones, is one of the most effective ways you can participate in the circular economy. You probably already know what to do, but just in case, here are some reminders: make sure you have a KeepCup, water bottle, reusable cutlery and a shopping bag on your person when you’re out and about; borrow, rent or share items that you only need to use once; buy second-hand wherever possible; and pay-it-forward by rehoming your things when you no longer have a use for them.   

Access sharing services:

Resource sharing platforms are popping up all around the country. Your community may already have its own library of things or tool sharing service where you can rent everything from power drills and flippers, to puzzles and toys for the kids. These services are a great way for you to reduce your personal carbon footprint, save money and make friends. If you don’t have access to sharing services in your community, why not consider starting your own? There is a passionate community of resource-sharing experts in Australia who are ready to offer advice and assistance.  

Build up your repair skills: 

In a society where resources are kept in circulation for as long as possible, the lost art of repairing stuff becomes paramount. Repair cafés are becoming increasingly common around Australia and many tool libraries also run repair workshops. Register for the next repair event in your community to give that broken clock a second life and develop your own mending skills. Once you’ve got some basic repair skills under your belt, you’ll be surprised by the number of things you can fix yourself.  

Engage in the conversation: 

Even if you aren’t able to do any of the above, you can still support the circular economy simply by getting educated about what it is and spreading the message of circularity. We all know that the majority of our conversations take place on social media these days, so following the Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter accounts of people who are leading the way in our transition towards a circular economy is a great place to start. The Ellen MacArthur foundation is considered the holy grail of circular economy knowledge and practice. Other international accounts to follow include Circle EconomyThe Doughnut Economics Action Lab and the Holland Circular Hotspot. Closer to home, you can also follow Circular Economy VictoriaCSIRO, NSW Circular and of course Planet Ark!  

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Lucy Jones

Lucy started her career working as a writer and editor in print and digital publishing. She went on to create content for Australia's leading sustainable fashion platform while completing her Master of Cultural Studies. Lucy spends her downtime at the beach, crocheting and hanging out with her cat Larry. She believes words can change the world and is stoked to help Planet Ark spread the message of positive environmental change.

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