Polystyrene ‘waste’ recycling at Awaba
Lake Mac Council has installed a polystyrene compacting machine (watch Steven Merritt in this YouTube demonstration) at the Awaba Waste Management Facility. (AWMF) The machine melts the polystyrene which is then compressed into blocks, which are then easily recycled into products such as skirting boards and picture frames.
The polystyrene needs to be dropped off in order to be recycled and cannot be placed in your yellow recycling bin. Drop off is free (ensure you have covered in shoes on) and can be made seven days a week between 8am-4pm. This service is free of charge and potentially could divert a massive amount of polystyrene from ending up in landfill. (EcoAdvocate 8 July, 2021)
At the national level, Australia imports about 52,000 tonnes of polystyrene resin every year, to make into things like insulation, as well as single-use packaging for white goods and packing beads for posting boxes.
About a quarter of it is recycled, through business programs or at council depots. The rest ends up in landfill. But it is still plastic, so it takes a long time to break down in landfill, and the deadline to phase it out is approaching. The ABC News story notes businesses like OfficeWorks that are changing for the better.
Seven reasons why we need a circular economy
You may have heard of trucks and buses that are fitted with govenors or limiters.
- A governor is a system that is used to maintain the mean speed of an engine, within certain limits, under fluctuating load conditions. It does this by regulating and controlling the amount of fuel supplied to the engine.
- A speed limiter is a governor used to limit the top speed of a vehicle. For some classes of vehicles and in some jurisdictions they are mandatory.
These J curve graphs illustrate what happens when a society embraces a growth economic model. The idea of a governor or limiter hasn’t been considered and would appear to be unthinkable.
But even die-hard believers in the linear economic growth model, including green growth (see the links below), are starting to realise that we can’t keep on keeping on, doing what is clearly failing – not only people, but the planet. The Circular Economy with its built in governors and limiters, is gaining traction.
Mother’s pantry and the Circular Economy
We can’t keep raiding the pantry forever and expect there to always be more. If we rarely replenish the shelves, then they’ll become empty. At some stage the pantry will be bare i.e. clear felled forests; overfished marine life; exhausted aquifers.
We can’t expect the host to go on giving willingly without ever expressing appreciation for the gifts she provides, without there ever being some, if not a lot of, reciprocity. The host can only take so much abuse before she starts to let us know this one-way attitude is not acceptable e.g. climate change driven floods and forest wildfires, etc.
To be worthy guests – appreciative guests – surely comes with some obligations. There are manners and courtesies that go with being a worthy guest, yet we seem to not apply them when it comes to our Earth Mother. We pay lip service to the earth and our non-human cousins. We destroy their habitat (homes), we pillage their landscape for short term trading in our retail appliance stores. In short we foul the nest (our nest) with our discards sent to landfill, and burnt fossil fuels sent into the atmosphere.
Our attempt to replace the circular nature based ecological system, developed by Mother Earth over millions of years, with a linear system, has been an abject failure. The sooner we get off the economic growth, linear treadmill, the better.
In Case Study: Green Collect, Jodie Lea Martire (ReNew, Issue 155, April 2021) reports on an Australian company that is practising circular economy principles.
“When we started over 15 years ago the focus was on recycling,” Green Collect CEO Sally Quinn explains. “Our work now prioritises maximising value through facilitating reuse, repair and remanufacture in ways that create significant environmental and social impact. We’re dedicated to creating a circular economy…creating new green jobs in sorting, testing, teardown and resale.”
In 2019, social enterprise Green Collect diverted over 1 million items from Greater Melbourne tips, with 60% of them reused and 35% broken down into recyclable materials. Around 20% of the total—around 2000 kg per month—was electrical goods and IT equipment: computers, printers, thumb drives, kettles, faxes, printers, floppy disks, cords… Basically, anything that has ever used power in an office.
“We work with businesses and households to continually minimise waste and extract the highest value from tricky items that would usually go to landfill. [Our] key area of impact is in reducing workplace waste…[via] new approaches that reduce the demand for natural resources.” Dominique Emery from Green Collect explains that the “most frustrating things” for this goal of reducing waste are cheap, single-use electricals—“the bottom of electrical innovation”; the product of a linear economy that pays far too little attention to quality design for long-term use and reuse. As Emery says, “We want really well-designed systems and processes to keep items in circulation for as long as possible.
This article is part of a larger feature on Into the E-Waste, ReNew, April 2021
The sun has never sent us a bill
In Natural Forces and the Circular Economy (A Perfect Planet: Our One in a Billion Planet Revealed, BBC), the editors note that: Moving to a carbon-free economy involves a huge change to the human natural order of things, but it’s still a no brainer, even on purely financial grounds. As economist Jeremy Rifkin (picture) said: “The sun has never sent us a bill. The wind has never invoiced us. Coal, gas, uranium. They’re expensive. The sun and the wind are free.”
So, instead of the take-make-waste economic model, we need to think in a more circular way – just like nature, where nothing is wasted. In the circular economy, the emphasis is on a low-carbon culture where things are shared and reused, whether it be our clothes, our homes or our cars. This will mean new products will need to be designed ‘from-the-ground-up’ to have circularity built in. We will then be no different from the rest of nature that we have currently attempted to separate ourselves from.
MMM … Issue 22, September 2021