The Australian Industrial Ecology Network (AIEN) has issued a communiqué calling for prioritised action with respect to facilitating circular economy in Australia.

Accelerating the Transition to a Circular Economy: A blueprint for action on plastics and packaging calls for a shift in existing resource management frameworks and policies to encourage manufacturers, distributors, importers and others closely involved with the waste and resource management sector to accept “waste” as a valuable resource in higher value-added product markets rather than, a negative value problematic substance destined for landfill.

Colin Barker, AIEN Chair, says that there are many opportunities available for the recycling and reuse of mixed plastics, timber, glass, rubber and aggregates in Australia, with some local companies already reprocessing packaging into intermediate products such as timber substitute profiles or finished products such as furniture.

“The AIEN endorses the concept of Highest Net Resource Value (HNRV) as worthy of detailed consideration and promotion,” says Mr Barker. “It is a concept absolutely consistent with the waste hierarchy concepts but adds commercial values to the already enshrined social and environmental values.”

HNRV reflects an approach that seeks to achieve or retain the highest possible resource value from the materials under consideration, ‘net’ of the cost to achieve such an outcome.

Existing policies and resource management frameworks focus predominantly on raising awareness and placing the onus of responsibility within areas of separation and segregation of materials; initial treatment of post-consumer materials; and aggregation of those materials.

AIEN commends the proposed actions and targets outlined in the Discussion Paper Updating the 2009 National Waste Policy, which set the national target to reduce the total waste generated per capita by 10 per cent by 2030, with an 80 per cent recovery rate.  It argues, however, that for a circular economy to be truly successful, policy makers, manufacturers and consumers need to go further.

“We need to look at how we design plastics and packaging, to ensure reduction of waste and enable recycling at the end of a product’s life,” says Mr Barker.

“It is also important to create processes and infrastructure that will encourage and enable materials or components to be reused and recycled. But most importantly, we need to establish and support consumer markets for reused and recycled materials.

“In short, to successfully move towards a circular economy, we need a holistic Australian approach that incorporates these additional elements.”

AIEN believes that any action taken towards achieving 80 per cent resource recovery rates or greater, must be predicted on the development of a genuine domestically based circular economy, and not on interjurisdictional waste levy distortions, international disposal masquerading as commodity trading and long-term reliance on energy from waste strategies.

To download the communiqué, click here.