Tim RobertsCranking the rubbish engine to a local circular economy


How far are we along the road from a linear economy – where the waste products of an industrial process end up in land fill – to a circular economy, where true recycling occurs?

Recyclablemeans that the waste object can be recovered, processed and used as a raw material for the manufacture of useful new products through a commercial process. We are all familiar with this word. We happily separate our waste, put it in the yellow, green or red bin and think no more of it. However, that peace of mind, like ball tampering, is just not cricket.Remember the TV reports of mountains of glass bottles, paper and plastics stored in warehouses waiting for a future use?Often we separate at work, but then the various lots co-mingle again at the nearest landfill, or onto a truck to Queensland to their landfill sites, or onto a boat to China.

The latter two have become financially less attractive, as Queensland imposes a dumping levy of proportion similar to NSW, and China rejects unsorted waste.

It is time our government truly supported recycling by embracing an industrial ecology where those businesses generating waste streams are intimately linked with new businesses using those wastes. Think glass bottles to road base, fly ash to concrete, organic waste to biogas, and soft plastics to building materials.

Waste offers hope of new industries for our region, and new industries mean jobs here, rather than overseas or out of state. Reading Doughnut Economics by Kate Raworth will prove to you that the linear economy is ‘just not cricket’. Industrial ecology, circular economy and recyclable are some words to put on the fridge to give us daily pause for thought and a reality check just as we had with the cricketers last week.

Professor Tim Roberts is the director of the Tom Farrell Institute for the Environment, University of Newcastle

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