Mapping the circular economy ecosystem of Victoria

Last updated: 27 July 2022
Prepared by: RMIT University
Prepared for: Sustainability Victoria and the Victorian Circular Activator
First published: April 2022

Executive summary

The aim of the research presented in this paper is to understand the current Circular Economy (CE) landscape in Victoria. Objectives arising were to identify the opportunities and gaps to be nurtured over the short term to support CE transition in the State of Victoria. This report represents a milestone point of the ecosystem mapping.

The research was underpinned by 3 main research steps: a desktop review, interviews with key stakeholders and a survey aimed at subject matter experts in Victoria. The desktop review highlighted that the socio-political tendency to measure policy outcomes, including a narrow set of waste related targets can have a negative influence on a systemic transition required to achieve circularity. The current focus on waste needs to be revisited to bring in step-change for systemic transition for CE. The existing policy targets also influence why CE is perceived to be a recycling strategy among non-experts.

Interviews showed that the focus is on recovery and recycling strategies with the primary consideration of waste resolution. A regulatory environment that is holistic in the approach to CE is critical. Businesses pay particular attention to financial sustainability in their R-frameworks, with recycling being the most commonly used R-principle. Alignment is vital between government, businesses and the community to optimise CE interactions. Collaboration supports cross-sectoral interconnections and nurtures the development of an ecosystem for circularity, when combined with knowledge, awareness and education. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are well aligned to deliver on CE as some of the SDGs focus on resource efficiency, production and consumption practices, and associated environmental impacts.

The key insights from this research emphasise that currently Victoria has some CE engagement, but this is sporadic and set in a largely linear economic system. There was no consistent understanding of CE among the stakeholders involved in this research. Focus is on end-of-pipe waste management focusing on recycling, rather than embracing a systemic approach and transition to CE paying attention to re-design, re-purpose and other such higher order R-principles.

Some sectors of the state such as infrastructure are using recyclates, showcasing government as a good exemplar that can also influence private industry. Businesses are driven to proactively engage in CE and sustainability for ethical or moral underpinnings, however, financial sustainability is a necessary driver for both private and not-for-profit businesses. Bringing the technical, financial and social elements to formulate holistic CE solutions are needed, not just focusing on the technical. Clear CE metrics are needed, so policy, business and community share the same goals and can all be fully engaged.

Background and introduction

This report presents the first tranche of research undertaken for the Victorian Circular Activator (VCA). The VCA, funded by the Recycling Victoria Innovation Fund undertaking this research, is a product of a partnership formed between RMIT University, Circular Economy Victoria, Swinburne University, City of Melbourne and Planet Ark. The VCA is a physical space to link the existing virtual infrastructure of the CEBIC in Victoria and aims to deliver CE outcomes. The aim of the ecosystem mapping undertaken for the VCA is to understand the current CE landscape within Victoria to identify opportunities and gaps that could be harnessed as the State transitions towards CE.

The research methods underpinning this study are a combination of:

  • desktop research
  • interviews with key stakeholders
  • a survey targeted to subject matter experts.

Ethics approval was sought from the University prior to embarking on the research project. A brief introduction to CE from a historical perspective is provided to set the scope for the definition of CE. This is followed by the scope of the research undertaken and a short description of the method adopted for the study. Then, the results are presented, corresponding to the 3 complementary research methods used.

Finally, this report provides the discussion, recommendations for policy alignment, key inflection points between stakeholder and policy necessary for activating CE in Victoria. Future research work emanating from this project is also presented.

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