With the fluid nature of COVID-19 continuing to shape how businesses operate in Tasmania, many are looking at different and new avenues to ensure they stay operational.
While not a new concept, the circular economy is receiving more interest than ever, with businesses and stakeholders alike promoting it's environmental and financial benefits.
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What is the circular economy?
The circular economic model is a system that sees product waste as a resource rather than rubbish.
Launceston-based academic researcher Dr Tony McCall said compared to a linear economic model, a circular economy seeks to reset the final stages of production where a product is thrown out.
"Linear economic growth models of take, make, break and waste are seen to be unsustainable and at odds with value-adding consumer preferences around custom-designed services and products," he said.
"Circular economy values promote and support curiosity, design and innovation that can be adopted across all industry and community sectors to create jobs.
"From re-manufacturing of heavy engineering tools, development of re-use supply and sell precincts in construction building materials, to community-based social enterprises from swap and loan-shops, re-use and recycle outlets."
Dr McCall said European nations had the most advanced examples of circular economy practices.
"The European Union remains heavily committed to investment in the circular economy - particularly in technology and research - across member states in post-COVID-19 recovery plans," he said.
"The 'new' circular economy is in fact 'old' and being revisited ... we all know family members, companies and social enterprises who are circular economy practitioners. Farmers are circular economy advocates: they re-use, repair, maintain, recycle and re-manufacture on a daily basis.
"Social enterprise charities and community groups often focus on re-use, swap, exchange or repair and recycle service provision."
A Tinder approach to improving business
Through using circular economy systems, businesses not only reduce landfill but also have to potential to save money. Aspire is an Australian-based resource trading platform helping businesses implement circular economy practices into the operations.
Aspire chief executive Cameron McKenzie said the initiative has been likened to social media dating app Tinder, in that it matches businesses that have resources that others need.
He said one business that used Aspire spent $8000 a month on throwing out produce they couldn't use into landfill.
"Through Aspire they managed to get that down to $1000 ... they listed their produce on Aspire and got other local businesses to take it and use it," Mr McKenzie said.
"Some produce went to a zoo which was literally around the corner from them, and some went to an organisation that helped make meals for disadvantaged Australians, some got made into chips and some was composted.
"At the end of the day through the platform, they managed to save $7000 a month."
Tasmanians get it ... there's a mindset that we understand what renewables and being sustainable are about ... that's why the circular economy is so attractive.Mark Baker
Aspire is continuing to expand into Tasmania with several councils using it as they begin to go green.
Mr McKenzie said on the business side, showing the financial benefits of a circular economy was crucial.
"It's all about leading by example and showing by example ... the only real way is to change behaviour, especially for small businesses," he said.
"To dip in their wallets - unless they're saving money it's going to be hard to change behaviours and that's what Aspire does."
Mr McKenzie said another business had been spending about $30,000 a month to acquire palettes, only to discover a nearby business had been throwing out palettes.
"There's also a bit of a social aspect to it which is saving businesses money but there's also the economic aspect to it - you're not running around trying to source materials from interstate, you might have someone down the road who can provide it," he said.
Tasmania adapting to a circular way of life
Northern Tasmania Development Corporation chief executive Mark Baker said Tasmania was in an advantageous position in that circular economy-friendly infrastructure was already in place.
"It fits Tassie's competitive advantage because we've been doing renewable for a long time," Mr Baker said.
"We know we have freshwater which we capture, run it through a turbine to produce electricity, and now we're looking at pumped hydro to capture that water and do it again.
"Tasmanians get it ... there's a mindset that we understand what renewables and being sustainable are about ... that's why the circular economy is so attractive."
Dr McCall agreed and added that Tasmanian businesses need only see the value in waste to pivot their operation in a circular economic direction.
"The high-end circular opportunities are in understanding what chemicals and energy products can be derived from domestic and agri-food bio-waste, mining tailings and sludge," he said.
"How can construction materials be recycled, re-used and how can innovative construction design utilise these products? What chemicals would we find if we mined our waste landfills? How can we re-use mine tailings and sludge?
"What are the re-use options for an empty CBD office space? An initiative already taking place in Launceston with the re-use of first-floor space in buildings for apartment and accommodation options."
IN OTHER NEWS:
Both Mr Baker and Dr McCall said the disruption of supply from outside of Tasmania in terms of mass-produced, linear economy goods served as a chance to re-shape Tasmania into a more self-sustaining state.
"What COVID's shown us is that international supply chains are being disrupted so it's hard to get resources ... to be able to have a self-sustaining supply chain is a real advantage for business," Mr Baker said.
Dr McCall even suggested Tasmania could play a nation-leading role in creating a circular economy centre for excellence that would draw on international partners and Australian bodies such as the CSIRO to establish a pilot research facility.
"Tasmania's unique opportunity will be how it utilises its renewable energy advantage to draw investment into circular economy innovation from the international companies that are drawn to Tasmania's Hydrogen potential and the pumped hydro infrastructure," he said.
"Tasmania needs to be ready when the opportunity presents itself."