As economies slowly emerge from their COVID-19 hibernation, many people are turning their attention to rebuilding.
Like rebuilding from a disaster such as fire, flood or earthquake, communities are looking at what existed before and using those ideas as cornerstones for socio-economic transitions.
With growing concern about "global to local" sustainability challenges that include resource depletion, food security and climate change impacts, the concept of a circular economy is one idea gaining traction as a transitional pathway to sit alongside traditional industrial sectors.
Post-COVID-19 deliberations provide an opportunity to change our thinking about what our economy might look like in 2030; where real value-adds can be made to our existing comparative advantages and place Tasmania in a position of competitive advantage.
A transition to a circular economy provides the pathway to "learn by doing" and draw on the existing circular thinking already practised by our textile manufacturers, our farmers, upholstery and waste management enterprises, architects and designers, social enterprise charities and innovative fermentation producers.
Linear economic growth models of "take, make, break and waste" are unsustainable and at odds with value-adding consumer preferences around custom-designed services and products.
By contrast the circular economy supports longer-life use of products and services by decoupling the linear economy and emphasising "reduce, reuse, repurpose, repair, maintain and recycle".
It helps stop the leakage of spending out of regional economies and supports "Buy Local" campaigns.
In advanced manufacturing this decoupling is supported by design and technology applications such as 4.0 industrial technology and emerging bio-economy substitutes based on renewable bio-resources rather than oil-based products.
Sounds like new wave jargon? It is not, but it does require a re-think: what would your business model look like if it was circular? What new opportunities would emerge?
Countries such as Finland have developed a strategy for a circular economy by 2025 and this approach is being supported and adopted with the European Commission for member states such as the Netherlands, Denmark, Germany and Sweden.
The City of Amsterdam has committed to the circular economy as an important pillar of its sustainability agenda.
In Australia, momentum is building to consider circular economy options within existing industry sectors looking for efficiencies and value-adding to their services and products.
For example, a Victorian food manufacturer that supplies the baking industry was putting its waste product straight to landfill.
By looking at its waste through the circular economy its yeast went to generate electricity from the methane produced by bio-digestion and farmers used the 40,000 litres of molasses produced each week as feed supplements.
Each year the company saved more than 160,000 tonnes of waste from landfill, close to 750 tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and more than 60,000 litres of water.
A simple change had a great impact not only on the environment but also the bottom line of the baking manufacturer business, which was saving $40,000 a year, and the businesses reusing the waste.
Why is that important? For every 10,000 tonnes of waste saved, 9.2 jobs are created from the savings. With hundreds of thousands of people out of work, every job created is vital.
Why is that important? For every 10,000 tonnes of waste saved, 9.2 jobs are created from the savings. With hundreds of thousands of people out of work, every job created is vital. Northern Tasmania is not Amsterdam but again this is not a scope and scale exercise, it is a design exercise around what can be rather than what is not probable.
Northern Tasmania is not Amsterdam but again this is not a scope and scale exercise, it is a design exercise around what can be rather than what is not probable. It is not impossible to imagine an organic residual stream connecting the agricultural and food sectors linked to a Circular Economy hub at the Meander Valley industrial precinct or the Northern Midlands Airport precinct.
A construction chain could be digitally supported in the north and an industrial precinct developed at Bell Bay, Meander Valley or the airport precinct.
Tasmania must be positioned to engage with this evolving policy platform - there are strong indicators the federal government is increasingly aware of both the need and the opportunity.
The challenge is what will Tasmania contribute in the development and implementation of an Australian road-map to a circular economy? Tasmania has an existing comparative advantage.
Bio-assets such as renewable energy and water resources, wood and agri-food productive platforms could become significant competitive advantages as the post COVID-19 socio-economic responses emerge at both a local, national and global level.
The circular economy transition pathway should have timelines that reflect realistic objectives and deliverables: now, medium and future timelines.
Northern Tasmania has taken a first-adopter opportunity with circular economy programs and projects within care and recovery initiatives driven by the City of Launceston and supported by NTDC and its member councils.
Northern Tasmania can lead the way in this emerging global re-think about how we can create new jobs, new services and products as we shape our very different social, economic and environmental future.
- Dr Tony McCall is a Launceston-based academic researcher and Mark Baker is Northern Tasmania Development Corporation chief executive