The circular economy disrupts old ideas about ‘waste’.

Traditionally, our economic system takes a linear approach to the production, consumption and disposal of goods.

Products are created by extracting raw materials and used for a single purpose, for a short period of time.

At the end of this period, they typically head to landfill as waste, which then needs to be managed and disposed of (often via overseas export).

The circular economy is a complete disruption to that system.

Instead, it sees production and consumption as a continuum, where the goods that are produced are used for much longer. At the end of their extended lifecycle, they can then be repurposed, recycled and remanufactured into something else.

Circular economy thinking is defined by these core objectives:

Eliminating waste by design

By the World Economic Forum definition, the circular economy aims for the “elimination of waste through the superior design of materials, products, systems, and business models.”

This elimination happens on a physical and ideological level.  In other words, we’re not just focused on how we can design products in a way that avoids excessive waste and pollution.

We are actually reframing the entire concept of ‘waste’ – essentially eliminating it from how we produce and consume.

In a traditional economic system, we follow a ‘take-make-dispose’ mentality. This mentality presumes that material resources are infinite.  We take them at will to produce goods and we dispose of them after an increasingly short period of use.

In a circular economic system, we are removing that arbitrary ‘end-of-life’ expiry, which ultimately sees precious resources on a one-way track to landfill.

This means that the products we consume are:

  1. Made from high-quality, durable materials, so they can be used for as long as possible
  2. Designed in a way that enables disassembly and reuse, so they can be repurposed, recycled and remanufactured

Encouraging reuse

In circular economy thinking, reuse is the most sustainable and cost-effective way to prolong a product’s lifecycle.

By prioritising reuse before recycling and ultimately disposal, we maximise how our precious resources are utilised, at minimal cost.

Reuse allows us to:

  • extract as much value from a product as possible
  • limit the number of goods produced overall
  • reduce the energy and raw materials needed to make them

Additionally, the uptake of this practice has flow-on economic and social benefits for our communities.

At Charitable Recycling Australia, we lead a network of charitable reuse and recycling enterprises across the country.

In particular, we represent charity and social enterprise retailers who work on the collection, sale and/or repurposing of donated goods.

This is what’s known as the charitable second-hand economy and it is an essential driver of circularity in our society. These enterprises give people an affordable alternative to buying new and funnel the profits back into their social welfare and community work.

Investing in resource recovery and recycling innovation

Unlike traditional modes of production and consumption, the circular economy uses a closed-loop model.

That means that the resources used in our products can be recovered and recycled at the end of their lifecycle.

Governments can support charitable reuse and recycling enterprises to collaborate with the commercial sector, particularly in clothing textiles.

This collaboration can maximise resource recovery and make use of the collection, logistics and retail operations that already exist in the charitable second-hand economy.

We can develop end-of-life collection systems and recycling technology infrastructure that is only used when all other avenues are exhausted. Governments can invest in new end markets such as insulation, underlay and building products, while generating new jobs and profit opportunities for companies.

Investing in the circular economy delivers a triple-bottom line impact.

Charitable Recycling Australia champions the circular economy, because we know it is a pathway to a sustainable environment and an equitable society.

Collaborating with our member enterprises enables us to see the clear, compelling evidence behind this claim.

And a big part of what we do is building a business case for reuse and recycling that demonstrates it’s ‘triple bottom line’ return-on-investment.

We know that when we invest in recycling and reuse interventions, there are measurable social, environmental and economic benefits.

These include:

  • Over 285 million products given a second life
  • More than 643,000 tonnes of waste diverted from landfill
  • 40 million customer transactions through charity and social enterprise shops every year
  • $550 million dollars generated for charitable community programs
  • $4 million dollars saved in waste management costs for charity and social enterprise retailers
  • Regional economic and social development and job creation across the reuse and recycling sector

How Australia can advance the circular economy.

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