Transforming Australia's recycling system could pump billions into the economy, the CSIRO says in a major report

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  • Australia could boost its GDP by $1 billion per annum by boosting its recycling capacities by 5%, according to a new CSIRO report.
  • The major paper makes the economic and environmental case for an Australian ‘circular economy’ based on reducing waste and repurposing materials.
  • Those findings come after legislation banning the export of unprocessed plastic, paper, glass and tires.
  • Visit Business Insider Australia’s homepage for more stories.

Australia could add $1 billion to its annual GDP by moving towards a ‘circular economy’ focussed on retrieving and repurposing waste materials, according to a major CSIRO report.

The national science agency’s latest paper, released Monday, proposes radical changes to the disposal of glass, tyres, paper, and plastics, which contribute to the 67 million tonnes of waste Australia produces each year.

Altering the nation’s “‘take-make-dispose’ consumption pattern” would have significant economic benefits, the paper states.

To get there, the CSIRO is calling for large-scale changes to how products are manufactured, with a focus on reusable and refurbishable products, and the increased use of recycled materials over virgin resources.

It also makes more targeted proposals, like investment in next-generation sorting technology at recycling centres, new infrastructure for processing waste plastics, and an eventual ban on tyre disposals.

Those ideas are undergirded by proposed tweaks to government oversight of recycling schemes, with the goal of boosting Australia’s waste collection and processing operations.

The paper states boosting Australia’s recycling rate by 5% would add $1 billion per annum to the national GDP, with the production of recycled goods circled as a major boon for the economy.

The CSIRO states recycling some forms of waste creates three times as many jobs as simply sending it to landfill.

Citing earlier research, the CSIRO also states Australia could miss out on $2.5 billion by 2036 if it doesn’t upgrade its lithium recycling capabilities — a clear nod to the booming EV market and its reliance on lithium batteries.

The paper mirrors earlier ‘circular economy’ proposals, and comes several months after new legislation phasing out the export of unprocessed waste, including glass, tyres, paper, and plastics.

The federal government also signalled its hopes to create a further 10,000 jobs in the recycling sector.

While the proposed advancement of Australia’s recycling system appears to have governmental support, the CSIRO’s paper is frank about upfront costs and the cultural shifts required to accommodate those changes.

“Building a circular economy will require leadership and innovative effort to address the hurdles and transition costs associated with all the major opportunities,” the authors state.

“A transition to a circular economy will require profound changes to industrial, institutional, economic, social and consumption practices.”

According to the CSIRO, reducing Australia’s waste burden means those changes will be worth it.

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