This month at the Australian Industrial Ecology Conference 2018 we explored the various concepts required to get to circularity. Better design, effective collection services, recycling and transformation were explored extensively. The solutions posed were exciting and innovative and offer an inspiring vision for the circular economy.
The room was full of passionate, hard-working individuals addressing the end of the supply chain – waste generation and recovery – and trying to loop this back into the economy. This role is incredibly important, particularly in a climate of mass consumption, throwaway culture and the height of our impact on the environment.
What the room was missing was the people at the design and manufacturing stage of the products we use every day. Have we forgotten about this link?
The answer is no. In fact, almost every speaker spoke about the importance of design and manufacturing in the first instance. The demand for recycled content was a significant discussion and the requirement of packaging to be designed with end of life in mind was reinforced repeatedly.
But the circular economy is too often considered a waste issue. The circular economy is an economic issue, a demand issue, an environmental issue and a manufacturing issue. It impacts the entire structure we currently operate in. It is not just a waste reduction strategy. The circular economy forces organisations and individuals to rethink the way they work and live in this global community and on this planet.
In order to achieve this goal, we need to ensure that the people making the products in the first place are taking responsibility for the products they put into the world.
Robert Pascoe at Closed Loop spoke about the power of only recycling products for organisations who are prepared to buy it back. Brooke Donnelly from the Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation (APCO) presented the PREP tool and Australasian Recycling Label, which helps to educate designers and manufacturers to improve the recyclability of the packaging they produce.
Blaise Porter from Fujitsu shared the smart e-waste collection services offered by Fujitsu for all forms of e-waste, not just Fujitsu products. These organisations and many more are working hard to drive this change in our economy but they can seem like big, chunky ideas for each of us to replicate. This is why we shared three rules to follow that will help us make circularity a reality.
#1 – Be the Change.
We cannot be what we cannot see. We need to model the behaviours we expect to see in others and we need to have conversations about it. One conversation at a time changes minds and holds us accountable to the changes we are trying to make. Take responsibility for what you purchase or use. Stop contaminating the bins, no matter where you are but especially not at sustainability events when you’re meant to be one of the people who ‘get it’. Be an ambassador for change as an individual and organisation. Be passionate.
#2 – Demand.
We have a disproportionate influence in this space. We are consumers as businesses and consumers as individuals. We have the ability to significantly shift the demand for products that reflect the circular economy. As organisations, there is a whole framework around sustainable procurement called the ISO 20400 standard. You can sign the GECA Positive Procurement Pledge, joining over 30 organisations pledging to procure better for people and planet. Once you’ve committed, we will provide you with a range of materials to grow your understanding of how to do this.
As individuals, we should demand products with recycled content, practice conscious consumerism and bring circular initiatives to our personal lives. Organise a clothes swap, host workshops on repairing different household items, demand product stewardship from the manufacturers you are looking to purchase from. Businesses and governments are accountable to us. We hold the power in our vote and our dollar. But we need to send the message loud and clear as both the organisations we represent and as individuals.
#3 – Collaborate.
Collaboration allows you to focus on your skill set and bring on organisations with a similar vision to fill in the gaps. It improves the outcome for the world and your bottom line by making you efficient and effective in the work that you are doing, and it feels great to work with people who share your vision because you know you are not alone. Competition at all costs has brought us to this point of mass consumption and production, environmental degradation, disconnection from ourselves and each other and the challenges in our political system. Collaboration is essential if we are going to get out of this mess and move to a circular and inclusive economy.
I truly believe that we are so close to circularity. We have everything we need to do it, the innovation, the best practice standards, the technology, the expertise. All we need is to embody this change, demand the outcomes we want and collaborate to get there. The organisations and individuals participating in the Australian Industrial Ecology Conference are evidence that so many people are doing the thing already, so there really is no excuse.
Sarah Sannen, Operations & Finance Manager
Sarah is dedicated to enhancing best practice strategies for sustainability labelling through improved governance, risk mitigation and resilience capability building through supply chains. Her passion is to explore the true impact we can have as we push markets towards regenerative practices.