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The Year in Circular Economy

Catalysing regenerative and closed-loop approaches to building economic, natural and social capital.

In a circular economy, the aim is to keep resources in the system for as long as possible.

A circular economy creates value through economic activities aimed at reducing, reusing, recycling and recovering waste. As well as this, it reduces carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions; reduces pollution, landfill and water contamination; and promotes ethical working conditions.

A circular economy is achievable. Many Australian state and territory governments are reviewing their recycling policies and businesses and industries are interested in the new opportunities that a transformed system provides.

At MSDI, we contribute to the UN SDG 12: Responsible consumption and production, by trialing and testing new methods to look at the behavioural as well as the material impacts on systems. And we advise governments and policy makers with our findings and recommendations.

Advancing circular economy policy and practice

Our Circular Economy Textiles team helped to shape Victorian Government recycling policy to include textiles waste which is a significant contributor to landfill.

The project published a research report in consultation with 11 fashion industry groups who provided their perspectives and experiences on the textile circular economy. The report helped put circular textiles in the public eye and generate public dialogue. Throughout the project the team fostered an open dialogue with the Victorian Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) which created opportunities to influence textiles being included in the government’s new recycling policy. And our team is now facilitating workshops with Sustainability Victoria (SV) to help them implement their textile recycling priority initiatives across the state.

Our BehaviourWorks Australia team also set an audacious goal to reduce per capita material resource consumption in Australia by 15% by 2030, while maintaining community wellbeing and economic resilience. As one of two cross-consortium missions starting in 2021, this Responsible Consumption Mission is a collaboration between BehaviourWorks Australia, DELWP, SV, The Shannon Company and the Australian Government’s Department of Agriculture, Water and Environment (DAWE). This year, the consortium and a variety of external stakeholders identified and prioritised a short-list of key behaviours related to fashion and furniture. The next step will be to co-design behaviour change interventions to encourage the key behaviours, before trialling, and then translating the findings for government and community partners. This mission commenced at the same time as BehaviourWorks Australia completed the final three of the 30 household recycling contamination trials, to wrap up the BehaviourWorks Australia 2019 Waste and Circular Economy Collaboration with the above partners. Final reporting on the achievements of this major program of work will be available from February 2022.

Our behaviour change work continues to give individual governments the evidence to create change through evidence-based waste, recycling and circular economy policy. In 2021, BehaviourWorks Australia designed rigorous behavioural surveys to track waste prevention trends and changes which provided DELWP with the forward thinking clarity to make targeted decisions and measure impact under their circular economy policy, Recycling Victoria. BehaviourWorks Australia also worked with DAWE and a range of Australian state and territory governments, researchers and environmental NGOs to develop a framework for understanding and defining waste prevention, creating a hierarchy of behaviours and their outcomes in order to enable measurement and tracking of Australia’s progress to reduce waste generation by 10% (Target two of the National Waste Policy Action Plan).

Beyond our shores, our Citarum Program secured $180k from the Victorian Government to establish a ‘living laboratory’ to address pollution in the Citarum River in West Java, Indonesia. This support followed a Letter of Intent signing in which Monash University and the West Java Government agreed to collaborate on developing new solutions to restore the Citarum River. Over the next 12 months, the project team will conduct feasibility studies in two Citarum villages in circular waste and waste water systems, and develop a River Co-design and Transitions (RiverCAT) toolkit - an open source resource for organisations to conduct community-driven river and economy revitalisation projects. At the same time, we are working with local agencies to enhance capacity to implement transboundary river revitalisation policies, supported by the Asia-Pacific Network for Global Change Research. The Citarum Program, co-led by Monash University (MSDI and the Faculty of Art, Design and Architecture) and Universitas Indonesia in Jakarta, continues to grow its international consortium, including Universitas Padjadjaran, CSIRO, and the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology in Switzerland.

Learn more about our work in this space:

Circular Fashion

Responsible Consumption project

Waste and Circular Economy and Measuring waste prevention

The Citarum Program

Building awareness

The Circular Stories T-shirt guide helps to reduce textiles waste at every part of its journey.

Developed by our Circular Economy Textiles team in partnership with the Circular Stories Working Group, the Hon. Lily D’Ambrosio, Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change launched the guide in July 2021. At the same event the Minister announced that the Victorian State Government’s priority material for 2021-2022 within the Recycling Victoria Policy, was textiles and included dedicated grant funding for circular textiles business innovations. Within 12 months of launching the T-shirt guide promotions and engagement by the Circular Stories Working Group on the guide have generated six news stories across state and nationwide TV and print, online fashion blogs and fashion websites, over 300 downloads and over 600 meaningful views online. Members of the Circular Stories Working Group have also held 20 meetings with retail distributors and production houses, government agencies, industry stakeholders, the charity and recycling industry to discuss, promote and use the guide.

Learn more about our work in this space:

Circular Economy Textiles

Circular Stories Volume 1: A better T-shirt for today and tomorrow

Case studies

Masters student profile: Nicole Crozier

head and shoulders profile photo of a woman with dark hair, flower in the front

Monash leader helps her fashion industry employers to implement sustainable change.

Nicole is over halfway into her Master of Sustainability and Environment. In 2021 she studied part-time while she worked full-time as a Senior Product Designer at Supré which is owned by the Cotton On group.

Working full-time while studying requires finely tuned time management skills at the best of times. So how did the challenges of a pandemic affect Nicole’s studies? She says, “Being online allowed me to connect better with people. I found it easier to access them. Otherwise I’m pretty driven to study independently. Plus, as a full-time worker, at least I could attend classes just by walking into a different room. My workplace is pretty understanding of my studies.”

Nicole is specialising in the corporate sustainability stream to provide her with the skills to have an impact in the fashion industry. And she has hit the ground running.

While implementing sustainability changes is not actually part of her role, Nicole says, “I’ve made myself an unofficial sustainability representative for the brand.

"I’m working with Cotton On who have committed to a carbon zero goal by 2030. I’m helping them to calculate their carbon footprint. They’re only in the first stage, but it’s going to escalate from here.

"And I’ve helped Supré introduce recycled fibres into quite a few of their product ranges. Being part of the small wins has given me hope that there can be bigger changes.

"I believe that businesses can overcome the barriers that stop them from making sustainable decisions. The key barrier is usually short-term cost, however creating sustainable change can lead to much bigger, long-term benefits for businesses.

"I find that people in the fashion industry do care about sustainability, they just aren’t equipped with the right tools. People look to me naturally at work. And I’ve created this space as a sustainability leader, which I enjoy."

As we go to print, news comes through that Nicole has accepted a position as Sustainability Lead at Bunnings Group. Congratulations Nicole! We’re looking forward to seeing the changes you’ll achieve when you’re able to focus exclusively on applying your sustainability skills and knowledge in your new role.

MSDI Capability: Build capacity and empower leadership by building the skillsets and mindsets for effective action, enabling people to lead from where they are.

Circular Stories – a fashion perspective

woman in red dress standing in a shop between a small table and higher shelves and in front of handing colourful material

Building a brand with fashion and sustainability expertise in its blood.

A circular economy has been fundamental to Seljak Brand since its beginning six years ago. And it’s been a big part of Sam Seljak’s life for even longer.

When she went into business with her sister, Sam says they were both clear, “We want to do more good than harm. My sister, Karina, studied fashion design, and I have a background in social enterprise. We launched Seljak with sustainability in our DNA.”

Sam completed her Masters in Arts, focussing her studies on Sustainability Leadership and writing her thesis on the circular economy.

Seljak Brand’s recycled wool blankets are woven from textiles waste and are recyclable at the end of their useful life. And Sam was one of the fashion partners in the Circular Fashion project who lent her industry knowledge and experience to MSDI and the working group.

Sam says, “I enjoyed working with the partners and looking at different ways that people were applying circularity to their products. We are currently looking at different types of end of life methods. For example, we’re conducting composting trials of 100% wool blankets to see if we can replace the polyester component, which is common in a recycled yarn, with new wool, to create a completely compostable product.”

Sam and her sister Karina can see the business opportunities in a circular economy. Sam says, “We use our products to educate and explore the circular economy for consumers. For example, we’re currently creating videos, blog posts and workshops that teach consumers how to love, care and repair their woollens. A customer reached out the other day to show us their newly dyed Seljak Brand blanket, giving it a second life.”

The Circular Stories experience has been valuable in many ways. Sam says, “The small brands can be the pioneers for change but we don’t have the resources to crystallise our learnings and share our knowledge as widely. The process with MSDI gave us the time, the network, the structure, and the backing of research to make it happen.”

MSDI Capability: Facilitate collaboration by creating and strengthening partnerships and aligning stakeholders for co-ordinated action.