Episode 14: How Can We Work Towards A Circular Economy?

We have talked about waste management on this podcast before, and today we want to take it a step further and chat about creating a circular economy. For that, we have Scott Bryant on the podcast, who is a circular economy coordinator for the City of Greater Bendigo.

Scott has been an amazing resource for the creation of our own waste management plan, and has extensive experience working in this field in Australia as well as overseas.

We start off our conversation with explaining what circular economy actually means, and share some insights about what individuals and business owners can do to help. We also have some great examples for innovative businesses working in this field, as well as some exciting insights into what Bendigo is doing to stop wasting our waste.

Episode Transcript

Sandra Redlich  00:01

Thanks for taking the time to be on this episode with us today Scott, we really appreciate it. Can you maybe tell our listeners a little bit about yourself, what it is that you do? What’s your background? And maybe also the connection of how we came to know each other?

 

Scott Bryant  01:37

Sounds good, yeah, happy to. So just quick thanks to you both. Thanks, Sandra and Anthony for inviting me on. Always happy to chat circular economy and material. So it’s great that this is getting some airtime in Bendigo. The more the merrier. So I guess, from my side of things, I’m a mechanical engineer by background, or that’s original training. And I fled the country about 10 years ago, because in Queensland, where I grew up and trained, there wasn’t too much to do in the sustainability space at the time, unless you were in the know, and I wasn’t. So I found myself in Europe for the last 10 years, initially working on and then doing some further studies in renewable energy. And it’s both on our technical side of things as well as sort of policy and strategy and found myself in Scotland of all places working with the Scottish Government over there at Zero Waste Scotland, where they had a, I guess, a symbiotic alignment between their renewable energy transition and sort of materials waste and what they started to call five years ago circular economy and so I guess that’s a bit about me. And I’m sure, we’ll get into how I ended up in sunny Bendigo. But I had the pleasure of chatting with Anthony and the team last year, they were looking for some guidance around I guess what we traditionally tend to call waste or end of life materials, just with regards to how they’re looking to improve what they’re doing as part of their innovative design and build side of things. So that’s I guess, how the stars aligned for this conversation today.

 

Sandra Redlich  03:15

Yeah, that’s right. And we have to give another shout out to team member Evangelia, who kind of kick started all of this. If you’ve listened to our episode about waste management, with a Bendigo based company called Tiger Bin Hire, we already mentioned that Evangelia kind of started this journey for us. And yeah, we haven’t stopped since then. We’ve continued, which is kind of the reason for our conversation today. You’ve already mentioned your back in in Bendigo. So how did that happen? Did you get sick of the rain in Scotland?

 

Scott Bryant  03:46

One might think so, but it was, I guess, total fluke, if you will. I think I’m officially Bendigo’s or the City of Greater Bendigo’s first international hire, even I’m technically Australian, in terms of it was just a last minute thing. I saw online an opportunity for a new position that they’ve created called a circular economy coordinator at the city, which was anything from fixing what do we do when the landfills closed? Because human nature, we saw this 10 years coming out. And three years beforehand, everyone goes, Oh no, we still haven’t figured out what we’re doing. And to be honest, it was the first Circular Economy role, I guess, that I’d seen in Australia. And so it has almost been 10 years, it was a good opportunity to come back and very serendipitously just happened to be just before a global pandemic kicked off. So it wasn’t because of the pandemic, but I literally made it back into the country with two weeks to spare.

 

Sandra Redlich  04:46

Yeah, there you go. Good timing. You’ve mentioned that there’s not that much around in terms of circular economy and jobs in that field or anything even at the time in Australia. Can you explain maybe a little bit of what that buzzword circular economy actually means? What is it that you’re looking at in your role?

 

Scott Bryant  05:08

Sure thing and I guess one caveat, I would say, is if you could ask 12 different people in a room, they would give you 12 different answers. There would probably be a lot of similarities. But it is, I would say, still a fairly contentious word in terms of it’s been around for a good decade or more and certainly 50 years if you look at where it all started, in terms of anything from industrial symbiosis to people might be familiar with Cradle to Cradle more in terms of thinking full lifecycle. But in a nutshell, for me, circular economy is a thinking about the full lifecycle of what we’re doing. So it doesn’t start with when we buy something and end with when we need to get rid of it. But what is the impact of everything we’re doing in terms of from when we’re thinking about what goes into designing, say, in this case, a building. Appreciate we’re talking construction today and design, through to well at the end of life, and we no longer need it, it has to go somewhere. It doesn’t just go away. So what do we do with it? And I guess the lens that everyone’s starting to put over it now is I guess the climate crisis issue and greenhouse gas emissions. So starting to look at the impact of a product or in this case, the impact of a building isn’t just about how efficient it operates when we built it in terms of how much or how little energy we can use, how much renewables we can use. But what’s all the energy and the water and the resources that went into building it in the first place? And what does that look like? I guess, across the lifecycle of a building, how do you optimize that?

 

Anthony Jenkin  06:35

We talk about the obvious things for us being in the design and construction industry, it’s a waste of materials, etc. But I think like looking at the bigger picture here, we can think about the livability of towns and cities and just the overall impact that this has beyond the scope of just that. And I know Bendigo had the One Planet Living, or they do sorry, have that guideline in which they tried to abide by and through some of our tendering processes previously, it’s always something that we respond to. Have you found that that ties in with that as well?

 

Scott Bryant  07:06

It absolutely does Anthony, I guess, on your point, just before jumping onto the one planet guidelines. I guess that’s another principle, if you will, on what people are, or how people are looking through our circular economy lens, is it’s not just about how we just design and use materials. But is there a way to through our actions to actually I guess regenerate what we’re doing. Be that social contracts and answers to communities through to actual areas where we’re maybe using resources at the moment, is there a way that our use of those resources actually makes that area nicer? In terms I guess, management of agriculture and woodstocks is probably a really good example there and particularly pertinent given everyone’s jumping onto the sustainable timber and engineered timber products bandwagon. So exciting times there. But with regards to Bendigo, I guess, circular economy and how that ties in now, One Planet Living principles, and I guess that’s started to transition more into, I guess, the more common parlance of net zero targets. So for the city that’s net zero, as a, I guess, as an organization by 2030. And looking at how we work with the community to try and get there by 2036, which is no small task. But I guess the overlap there is probably a mix of, you have what most people tend to talk about when they talk about materials, is the waste. So the emissions from actually just putting things in landfill, which is can be quite substantial in terms of methane that’s produced when you put organic products in a hole. But it also, I guess, as a much larger portion of potential emissions and what we don’t tend to talk about, we’re starting to talk about more both in Australia and globally. But it’s the really complicated and messy part is what we tend to call scope three emissions or embodied carbon. And what that is, and apologies to your listeners if they’re well and truly clued up on this. But that’s effectively all the emissions that go into action that you’re not directly responsible for, say, as an individual or as a business, but have gone into the creation of the products you buy to use and that could be anything that you use as a building product through to I guess the services that you might be using. So the fact that you’re using that service or you consuming that product has some inherent emissions to it. And countries like Australia and England, and the broader UK and Great Britain have been I guess over the last 30 years, a lot of that we don’t even produce in Australia anymore. And so those emissions are scope three emissions, we’ve actually exported to the likes of China, because they’re doing a lot of the manufacturing for us. So ironically, it looks like we’re reducing our emissions or stabilizing them, but we’ve just exported the problem. So that’s a long winded way of saying we’ve tried to build into our climate change strategy. And now I guess the evolution of our One Planet principles to looking at how do we reduce those emissions and start to look at, well, the circular economy as a means of reducing those scope three emissions and starting to, I guess, account for and start to tackle the really complex bit of it’s not just about getting solar panels on our roofs and getting energy efficiency, it’s now actually about, I guess, material efficiency now.

 

Sandra Redlich  10:18

The One Planet Living principles, they are certainly one step into the direction of presenting solutions to these problems. Is there something else? Something clearly that you can maybe share with us that the specifically obviously the Bendigo Council is doing to help to achieve these goals?

 

Scott Bryant  10:36

Yeah, so I guess I’d almost offer one for Bendigo and one that’s I guess, the global yardstick if you will for impact in this space. On the global level, almost any lifecycle analysis experts listening will get really annoyed because it’s over far too much of a simplification but think carbon dioxide equivalent emission, so measuring emissions is almost the yardstick today of are we improving things, or are we doing worse. Obviously, that’s overly simplifying things in terms of you could reduce carbon and the same time you could completely ruin a community or something like that. And that’s obviously not a good outcome. But as a bit of a yardstick, measure emissions and reducing it through how what sort of materials you use or products you buy, or how they’re comparatively better or worse is, I guess, a good global yardstick, and then combine that with what a consultancy in the Netherlands, called Circle Economy, has started reporting on the global circularity of our material chain, so how circular is the globe, and they publish a report called the Circularity Gap Report, which I believe as of the year 2022, published in 2023 just recently, we’re only 7.2% circular, which means that all the materials that were used globally, only 7.2% of them are coming from a recycled or renewable, reused source, if you will. So everything else is coming either out of the ground or being grown and having to be harvested. So we’ve clearly got a long way to go. From a Bendigo perspective, I guess, in terms of implementation, it’s been a long journey for a slow process. Much slower than I’d like. The joys of a 1,000 person organization and try and implement change when you’re trying to deal with a lot of different people in teams. But we’ve had some reasonable success with what we’ve called our circular economy and zero waste policy, which in a nutshell, is a design or procurement policy, sort of saying, recycle first, how do we get recycled content, reuse products into all the projects that we’re doing, given that we use a lot of materials each year to anything from building roads and footpaths, through to building extensions to art galleries and these sorts of things. So given that we spend quite a bit of money each year, I believe about 120 million a year in terms of delivering projects and services to the region, that’s a lot of money that can be spent intelligently to try and not only do the least harm in terms of pick what products and materials do the least harm, but also starting to think about how we can actually use those dollars intelligently to start doing that. Like it’s not just environmentally regenerating areas by selecting the right partnerships with different suppliers, but also looking at, I guess, what councils are probably historically more focused on: How do you use that spend to regenerate communities and use it in a social sense as well. So it’s trying to bring that all together.

 

Anthony Jenkin  13:42

No easy feat.

 

Scott Bryant  13:45

I would love to put myself out of a job Anthony, but it’s a work in progress.

 

Anthony Jenkin  13:51

I just wanted to mention too for listeners who are interested in looking at that term report, the Global Report, and that’ll be in the show notes as well. There’s a lot of information to take in here. And I’m sure at this point right now, people listening are probably asking what advice can you give to us? You know, in our day to day, how can we do better? Or how can we assist, how can we work towards that same goal?

 

Scott Bryant  14:20

It’s a critical one Anthony, and it’s a tough one because I guess from a professional and to an extent that personal approach, it’s always a tough one, we always focus on that. I guess we’ve become very good at saying what do I as an individual consumer – and I use that with air quotation marks a little bit – what can I do? And obviously there is an impact and decision making can play a key role, but for me, I think for individuals, it’s probably a mix of just be a very a conscious consumer in terms of how we as a society and Bendigo and wider Australia and globally, we are reasonably limited as individuals in terms of if you wanted to overturn the applecart of capitalism tomorrow, you as an individual probably couldn’t do that alone. So having a think about that, it’s probably a bit tough. Like having been conscious of what you buy, and necessarily why you’re buying it is probably a really good start in terms of when you’re similar to I guess, when people start focusing on, you know, what have I actually eaten in this last week, there’s a lot of the time with the way we’ve set up our society for ease of buying products and getting things done. We’re probably not always consciously aware of how much stuff we’ve actually used in a week. And so I think, on the one hand, that’s probably that. And on the second one, which is a bit of a cliche, it’s probably, I guess, engaging. Engaging in the process in terms of the political process as a citizen and sort of actually demanding better bit of your local council or state and federal level through to I guess, as as people who are working their own businesses. So Anthony, you and the team are a good example: Here starting to look at what can you as a business do to start tackling this in your own behavior? Because businesses are made up of individuals as well. So it’s probably also having a chat, or having a think and having a chat internally wherever you work in terms of what’s the impact of what my business is doing each day, can we do something that’s both environmentally smarter, but oftentimes actually can lead to its lower costs as well, because it’s about being smarter with how we’re using and consuming materials and products?

 

Anthony Jenkin  16:31

I definitely encourage anyone as well to reach out to us if they’d like to see what we’ve implemented ourselves. And both in office that’s been operational now for a while, and it’s working really well. Even with some, you know, there’s always challenges that we’ve encountered and we’ve been able to overcome that just by, I guess, reaching out to the community, the local community in our specific little block so that, together, we’ve resolved those problems that we had. And we’re also developing our own waste management plan as well, which we really are more than happy to share all of that with people and any other businesses who are listening who want to try and suppose to create their own. Again, we’d be more than happy to assist and provide what we’ve done to achieve that. So a part of that includes things like using a certain percentage of reclaimed or redirected materials in every one of our designs. So that’s just an example of one thing that we can do.

 

Scott Bryant  17:28

And Anthony, if I can just quickly jump in there. I think my colleagues would be probably a little bit peeved if I didn’t flag it, but I guess another, as an actual tangible action, because I appreciate that there’s a lot of people who think about things and reflect on things. And that’s sometimes a little bit abstract, but as a very much from both a business perspective, but even more so as an individual household perspective, food waste is probably the number one lowest hanging fruit. I use an absolutely terrible analogy that it’s such a low hanging fruit, it’s actually rotting on the ground is that glowing terms of avoiding wasting food in the first place. But if there’s inevitable food scraps and the like, if you don’t have your own compost at home, councils like Bendigo have food waste composting program like the green litter bin many of your listeners might know of. Lots of councils are starting to adopt it. And if they’re not going to, nag them. That’s a really easy win in terms of reducing emissions and making sure, you know, all the nutrients and water that went into growing that food, manages to get put back onto land rather than going to landfill.

 

Sandra Redlich  18:31

Yeah, that’s a great example of something actionable that we can all do. I have to take this opportunity, having an expert sitting here, to ask a few questions that might… they’re going to be a bit silly, but bear with me here, a few questions. So, as the listeners probably know by now, I’m from Germany originally. And I know there’s some other discussions around the topic, the broader topic of, I don’t like the word, sustainability. Because, you know, like you said before, you ask 10 people and everyone would say something different about what does that word mean. But I know that there are a lot of discussions back home when it comes to what is better. There’s a lot of people that argue about little things such as, you know, you shouldn’t purchase a plastic bag when you’re going shopping, you should bring your own back from home. But if you then have like a fabric bag, how much more water went into producing that fabric bag? Does that make the plastic bag, at the end of the day, the better option or, you know, when we’re looking at maybe purchasing water, if you don’t want to drink tap water, there’s the plastic bottle, you know, we shouldn’t use the plastic bottle, we should use a glass bottle. But transporting the glass bottle will have way more emissions set free so it’s… If you see where I’m going, it’s very confusing and there’s a lot of arguments and I think a lot of people they get kind of… They freeze because they don’t know what to do and there’s so much information out there. People say you have to do this. And it’s very much black and white sometimes, at least in the overall discussion, that I think it can get quite overwhelming and people just stop doing that. Is there any kind of source of information, something that you can direct listeners to, that can solve that freeze? And that moment of I don’t know where to go? I don’t know what to believe anymore?

 

Scott Bryant  20:24

I think it is a very tough one Sandra, in terms of there’s no silver bullet in terms of there’s only one right way. And I guess that’s where you get into dangerous discussions where it starts to feel like it’s very much always becomes like a political or religious discussion in terms of it’s what I believe, but I guess you hinted at that a little bit in your question there. In terms of, I guess, the biggest impact you have is the one that you don’t make. So in terms of a plastic bag versus a canvas bag is a hotly debated topic. Any LCA listeners on there would be able to tell you, it’s depending on where the bag’s from. And if it’s organic cotton, therefore, it’s maybe used fewer pesticides, which required more land to grow it on etc. It requires this many uses to be better than a plastic bag that’s produced from virgin or from oil that’s been drilled out of the ground, often called virgin material or primary material. But I think last I read, it can vary between sort of 30 and 50 uses. So make sure you use that tote bag if you’ve got it, because you need to get some good use out of it. But it is a really tricky one. I mean, the biggest one is if you can avoid doing something, then embrace your inner sloth, embrace your inner koala in terms of be lazy if you don’t have to do that thing. And you don’t need that product. And if you can get away with not having it, then go for it. I mean, that’s probably the easiest rule of thumb, otherwise, the internet is a dangerous place. But if you’re really fretting over products, you know, as I guess as an individual consumer there’s a reasonable amount of information and I guess manufacturers and retailers more frequently having to publish the impact of their products. So I guess there are internationally labels and marks that are looking at what are the impacts of different products and starting to compare them. That’s especially big in the EU. So doing some googling there. I think Blauer Engel in Germany, blue angel is a good example. But yeah, I guess the same report on that in the broader business or building industry, there’s a lot more pressures, probably more starting with the bigger manufacturers. And I think it’s starting to trickle down. Probably the only good use of the trickle down metaphor here that actually works. But in terms of environment, product description, so I think I’ve asked about that a little bit. But they describe what’s the impact of this particular product in terms of how much water went into it, how much carbon was required to produce it? What’s the recyclability of it? That’s starting to be developed. And I feel I’ve gone way off topic here with your questions. But I guess shifting to that building sector perspective, it’s actually starting to be discussed also in Australia. I know the NatHERS scheme has actually released for consultation what they’ve called their embodied emissions rating tool, which if you’re in the industry, go and have a look and provide some commentary because it’s in that circular economy and materials use face, it’s really exciting to see that coming into fruition. But to circle back on an individual perspective, if you can avoid having to make that decision in the first place. It’s probably a good one, because it can be complex, because technically a plastic bag in landfill does absolutely nothing, it will sit there for the next 1,000 years. But it won’t produce any emissions. Had lots of emissions to get it to that point. And you’ve only used it once. But that I guess goes to show just how dangerous it is to sort of start fixating I guess back on earlier in our conversation today in terms of it’s not just about carbon, it oftentimes is because that’s the biggest one of the biggest challenges that we’re facing right now. But it can get tricky, so don’t beat yourself up about it. I guess it’s probably the other one.

 

Anthony Jenkin  24:26

Sloth life is definitely advice I can get around. It’s important, and on that note, too, maybe it is time to step back a little bit here and start to talk bigger picture. I know we had Ben O’Brien on our podcast on an earlier podcast episode. He’s in the solar side of the industry. His background is in sustainable systems engineer and very passionate about renewables. And he sort of touched on that, in his studies, he didn’t see a clear way in which to use renewables to be able to provide power or enough energy to the large fabricators, those big industrial type fabricators. Have you found anything in that side of your own research? Or previous occupations that have seen some way forward with that?

 

Scott Bryant  25:23

It’s a tough one. And it does come down to, for the seriously high energy intensity industries, I guess, it’s probably a combination of those, you see some of the bigger players in Australia and some of the big miners, they’ve got their power purchase agreements, which is literally a good thing in terms of its directly funding wind farms and solar farms, or the companies that have set them up. But it is more of an accounting thing in terms of it doesn’t mean that every electron that you’re consuming on site, every kilowatt hour is coming from that plant. So I think from a heavy industry, or intensive energy industry perspective, the main one is just as societies, as countries, or as regions, even just how quickly can we get a suitable amount of renewables up and running to cover that, because the challenge is beyond a few small players. It’s far bigger than any particular company can manage. And there’s only so much that you can generate from the rooftop, even if you bring in a boatload of storage. And so oftentimes, it’s effectively a matter of how do we get rooftop solar and everything and then intelligent control of that. So our industry is locally. They might be pulling the same amount of electrons from the grid, or maybe they’re using a little bit less, because they’ve got a bit more efficient about it. But we know that they’re all coming from a renewable source. So I guess the cliched answer there is just how do we as swiftly as possible and intelligently as possible, just switch our actual, broader grid to renewables?

 

Anthony Jenkin  27:02

I suppose now my mind turns towards how we might be achieving that locally here. You’ve got my interest. I wasn’t aware of the fact earlier when you mentioned that this was the first Circular Economy position that you’d seen advertised in Australia. So this might be quite groundbreaking for people listening as well. And I don’t know how much you can share of what I’m  to ask. I understand that it’s all a work in progress. So we’re working towards our own circular economy as our landfill closes here. What is your thoughts around proposing how we facilitate that circular economy? You know, the infrastructure that’s required? And what happens with the parts that can’t be recycled? And how can we then turn that into a usable source?

 

Scott Bryant  27:51

It’s a tough one. I guess the one thing before I forget I would flag is what’s been really exciting. I guess, three years now – I keep facetiously saying I’ve been back in Australia for one pandemic now, but that starts to get a little bit macabre – but the amount when I first started, I think there were literally starting at the same time as me was another colleague in central Coast of New South Wales in a similar role, but we were literally the only two in Australia. But now in the last three years, it’s sort of really starting to take hold, not just in local government, but you’re starting to look across private industry as well. Circular economy is starting, I guess, to embed itself, it might be a derivation of sustainability roles historically, but oftentimes, it’s starting to sit in addition to those roles, so don’t feel like I’m the only kid on the block anymore, which is nice. But I guess in terms of your question, Anthony, on how does one replace a landfill? I think that is the billion dollar quite a trillion dollar question these days. And I’d love to have the one and only answer. There’s a lot of  moving parts here. The quick and easy answer is you can’t. Not entirely in terms of your two options at the moment for sorry, I should step back for a moment and sort of say, the main challenge we have at the moment is though, and that’s potentially overly simplifying things, is how we treat end of life materials. Hence in the name, we call it waste, as in we think there’s no more value in it, we need to get rid of it, it’s waste. And I guess ironically, waste is probably quite a good term in terms of that’s what we’re doing. We’re wasting that material by treating it as waste. But rhetoric aside, I think, at the moment, we’ve become very good historically, as waste was treated as a health and space problem in terms of I don’t have enough space at my business or at my household and it’s starting to potentially become a health concern. How do I get rid of this waste as cheaply, quickly, and efficiently as possible? And in Australia, because we’ve had lots of space typically, we become very good at building landfills in the last few decades, we’ve become very good at making sure that they’re very environmentally safe in terms of not leaching toxic materials or liquids into the environment. So we’re very good at that. And we’ve also started to extract methane to generate electricity from the breakdown of organic matter in those landfills. But what we’re really bad at doing in Australia, is reducing what we’re putting into those landfills. So if you consider we’re still really struggling as a country in terms of shifting the amount of stuff we’re putting into landfill in terms of not just recycling, but also just materials in general, because as a country, we were one of the biggest consumers of stuff in the world, not just in terms of because we drive long distances, but also just as households to day to day living. Were always buying new. Not everyone, but we’re always seen as the engine of growth is needing to go up to fundings, and get some more stuff to do your next project. But that’s, again, appreciate haven’t quite got to the nub of the question there, Anthony, but it’s a mix of, I guess, here in Bendigo, in terms of the council as being responsible for dealing with households and the waste materials, they’re putting in their bins every day, it’s a mix of how do we put the infrastructure in place that’s able to separate out as much of those materials as possible. So we can get them to businesses, either locally, or oftentimes in Melbourne, where there’s a bigger population density and more businesses, they can actually use those materials as I guess raw ingredients or feedstock for their business process. And historically, everyone would be really familiar with companies like Visy, big paper producer, they’re really good at taking that paper and cardboard from these processes and doing something with it. And metal, we’ve been doing that for a long time, because metal is quite expensive. And it’s really easy to melt down and put into a new form. I’m sure there are some listeners that are like, Oh, it’s actually really complicated. And it can absolutely be but bear with me here. However, we then get into that really tough areas of other materials. And so I guess, for Bendigo, it’s been quite progressive in Victorian councils in terms of in 2015, everyone grown through the adaptation of a food and garden organics waste collection, oh that’s another bin, I have to separate out some more and eight years later, it’s second nature, and everyone actually likes to humble brag to all their family members who are in councils, where half my bins are full of stinking food waste, and that in summer is really smelly, and we’re wasting, we’re putting into landfills. So I guess it’s a mix of engaging with companies who can, I guess, do things with the materials that we’re collecting. There’s an element. And it’s quite, it’s a very tough one, both from a sustainability perspective. But also just, I guess from an ethical perspective of not wanting to facilitate further consumption is effectively if you’re not putting it in a hole. And you still end up having, unless we do some massive political engineering in terms of the creation of materials in the first place that are not fit for recycling as in they’re very, they’re a mix of materials, or it’s very hard to break them down. Your only other alternative is what a lot of countries such as Sandra’s home country of Germany have done is energy from waste or people might have heard it called waste energy. It’s very controversial in terms of on what they call the waste hierarchy where avoidance and reuse is right up the top. Recycling is sort of in the middle, and landfill is right at the bottom. One step above landfilling is often what’s called energy recovery or just recovery. And what that means is, well, if you’re going to put it in a hole anyway, we might as well combust not necessarily combusted. But as in treated thermally. So for most listeners, they might be saying, Yeah, that’s incineration. That’s one of the technologies but it’s effectively turning your plastic cup or any of your materials that would be going into landfill into energy firms are getting some electricity and heat out of it. The challenge there is, in many cases, especially with the Australian electricity grids not being fully renewable yet, oftentimes, that process is lower carbon in terms of the electricity produced, compared to say, a coal power station. However, the challenge there is and what Europe’s trying to move away from is typically that only tends to make sense if you build very big plants, so they effectively act as power plants rather than as I guess waste treatment facilities. And so you end up trying not having to ship in or tracking waste from different regions to feed the beast as it will and I guess what Bendigo is currently exploring at the moment – we haven’t signed off on anything yet – but we’re in discussion with a local company on, how do we make sure that given that we won’t have a landfill here, there are a lot of emissions from having to car waste up the road? If we, because there’s always going to be a fraction, at least in the short to medium term, that we can’t recover and do something with. What do we do with that? Well, either we have to truck it up the road because we don’t have a hole in the ground here to put it in. Or if we do decide as a community to go ahead with an energy from waste facility, how do we make sure that a its future proofed so it could theoretically, actually properly recycle things in the future so not just putting general waste in but being able to put specific materials in and get things like biochar at the back, which is quite good for agriculture. Through to, I guess, as a last point, how do we make sure it’s no bigger than it has to be? Because that’s the other challenge is, if you create something that I guess meets what’s typically a really good return on investment that’s oftentimes based around making it as big as you can. And that locks in that consumption, because it’s right, we actually don’t want people to avoid producing that waste, because we need it as a food store. And you have countries like Denmark that are having to actually import other countries waste at the moment to keep some of their facilities running. Some of your listeners might have seen this swanky energy from waste facility in Copenhagen that has the ski run on top of it. And that’s, I guess, a good example there, they’re looking at how do we extend the life of that facility and maybe shift it to biomass instead of waste, but they’re still struggling with that at the moment. So if you can avoid it in the first place, or make sure it’s no bigger than it has to be, that’s sort of what we’re looking at at the moment. So it’s still a work in progress.

 

Anthony Jenkin  36:47

If anyone is also interested, I think it was Bjarke Ingels big architecture firm that did that design for that, because what is a ski slope doing on too of a power reducing facility that can’t be healthy, can it? But anyway, it seems to work. So I suppose, I don’t know what people’s thoughts are at the moment. But I don’t want to end this on a doom and gloom note or anything by any means. And it’s more about like, what is the good news story? And I don’t mean just locally, but can we talk about those things that have really caught your interest that you are just absolutely impressed by that are happening that will maybe locally but also internationally as well?

 

Scott Bryant  37:29

There’s a whole host and I think before our conversation today, Sandra and Anthony, you also flagged there were potential places to go and have a look at this and I guess be uplifted in terms of where can actually go and find out a bit more information. And I guess on that point, and I’ll get to one of my personal favorites in a sec. You have the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, which is a big, effectively think tank if you will, private. I believe they are charity standard, they are based in the UK, that’s almost the organization when it comes to evangelizing about circular economy, they have a whole host of great examples and materials from education through to case studies through actual tips and tricks to how to bring circular economy into your business. The latest trend is also an organization called Donut Economics, which also provides a really interesting way of how do I as as a member of a local council or a business or a state even, how do we use resources better? And how should we actually be doing that? I guess, better treat everyone from a social perspective, but also live within those planetary boundaries and reduce those environmental effects. So that’s another one. And otherwise, if you’re someone whose a fan of googling or binging or ecosa-ing or whatever is your search engine of choice, there’s a lot of case studies if you look for European Union or European Commission and circular economy, case studies, there’s a lot of exciting stuff there. And that’s probably glossing over any friends and organizations that we have doing some great stuff in Japan and China and Southeast Asia. So there’s a fair bit of stuff that’s on there that provides some exciting stuff for me and it’s probably a reflection of I still have part of my heart or at least one foot in the energy sector as an energy nerd, is probably a company called Reblade in Scotland. Also probably comes with the territory of having worked there previously and it was part of work I was trying to do there before I left but a big challenge with the wind industry is 20% of the weight of a wind farm is not recyclable. So the rest is, you know, you’ve got your metal curtain, big turbine tower that sits there and a lot of the parts in the actual – there’s a generator in there that actually generates electricity when the turbine turns – but the turbine blades for themselves are not currently recyclable. They’re effectively – just think of them as giant boats, if you will, it’s a balsa wood frame, and then you’ve got fiberglass. They do it all by hand, you’d be surprised at how archaic it is, in terms of creating a 200 meter long blade is very technical, but it’s then also very labor intensive. And it’s very hard to recycle. And if you think, Alright, it’s fiberglass and balsa wood, it doesn’t have a lot of value at end of life. You don’t want to be lugging a 200 meter long turbine blade back into town. Again, it’s very costly to move those things in one piece. And you have whole teams of engineers actually figuring out, I need to move this into remote Australia or I need to move this into the Rocky Mountains in Canada, how do I even get this, they’re going to be doing that at the end of life. And what this company, Reblade as well as quite a few initiatives happening up in Northern Europe, because it’s quite windy up there – and they like their wind power – is they’re actually trying to convert these wind turbine blades into usable products and equipment, from seats through to highway noise insulation through to structural products. And they sort of also worked with other companies such as renewable parts limited who are actually looking at how do we actually refurbish wind turbines in the first place when they’re finished, because usually, they’re not completely knackered at the end of life. It’s just that they’re old technology. And so on the same site, I can build a wind turbine that’s twice as big, and generate three times as much power from it. And so I’m using the land more efficiently. But I’m getting rid of the wind turbine that could still be used somewhere else. So yeah, I guess there’s a lot of interest in a lot of innovation in that space. Because the green industry, the green energy industry isn’t as green as it should be. It’s still an industry like anyone else. And it’s only recently that we started looking at what the impact of that industry is. Because up until now, we’ve just been focused on how can we reduce the cost of this so we can actually get rid of fossil fuels in the first place. We sort of, we’ve effectively got there. It’s cheaper, effectively, almost everywhere in the world now to build new renewables than it is new gas or coal fired power stations. But we’re now turning our attention to what do we actually do with all that stuff when it’s ready to be pulled down?

 

Anthony Jenkin  42:17

Yeah, well, what an insight, that was fantastic. Thank you for sharing that. I might just further add to that, and maybe you could share what that looks like for solar as well. Because I know that that’s more common here in Australia, for most people to – for whatever their reasoning is – have solar panels on their home. How does that look at the moment as far as the recycling of solar panels, because I imagine they probably get into an age now where a lot probably are either antiquated technology and need them to replace or to get better performance, or they may just be now at the end of their life as far as functioning.

 

Scott Bryant  42:55

It’s a tricky one in terms of… I guess, because of the nature of solar, we do have some big solar farms. But it’s a lot more, I guess, distributed, if you will, in terms of you know, if you imagine every household might have 10 or 15 solar panels on their roof, and that’s owned by each individual household. So it’s very, it’s a little bit less controllable in terms of, you know, everyone’s not pulling the solar panels off the roof at the same time. And when you combine that with, it’s quite a complex little package, solar panel is in terms of all the different materials, you’ve got an aluminium frame, and you’ve got silicone in there and some rare metals and the like. We do have a couple of companies that have started to set up and apologies if I’m missing any, I know there’s Lotus Energy and FSRC are two that are doing it as well as I believe there’s a long standing solar recycler in South Australia. As always, they seem to be ahead of the curve when it comes to renewables in Australia. But it’s a tough one, it tends to be more about getting those panels in, it’s trying to automate it because in Australia, it’s quite expensive to do stuff with manual labor. And so it’s almost trying to break it, but automate the deconstruction and breakdown of that panel. So you then get it into its different constituent parts. So you’ve got silicone that can be pulverized back into sand, or silica sand to be reused. Again, you can get your aluminium off to an aluminium smelter to be recycled and trying to break it down. And I think technologies out there have got to the point where it’s being able to recycle almost all of the panel, it’s just a matter of trying to get the supply chains in place. So I know the City of Greater Bendigo and other councils have sort of got drop off points where if you panels are done as a resident, we haven’t got there yet with commercial installers, then you can drop them off and we’ll pass them on to some of these companies. But it’s still early days. I think it’s as you say, Anthony, there is a lot 20 plus percent of households have got solar panels on there. It’s probably the next five years we’re really going to start to see those early 2000s feed in tariff sets and small solar panels that went up, that will start to come down. But it’s I think the one trick we haven’t got to. And that’s probably because of the fact that technology changes so quickly that every five years solar panels just get so much more efficient, where no one or few people are having that discussion is there a means to refurb a lot of these panels and they might not be as efficient anymore, and they might not put out as much power. But if we have some spare space somewhere, we’ve effectively got free panels that we could then put up and get generating electricity. So for any innovators and entrepreneurs out there that want to look at a new business model, I’d highly recommend looking at getting into refurbishing solar panels.

 

Anthony Jenkin  45:49

I do want to take this opportunity to just mention more of a grassroots startup as well, that’s looking to how to navigate this and that’s Robbie and the team at Revival Projects. They’ve just launched an app. So anyone who is currently designing or building a home, please do go find that app at your app store, whichever device you’ve got, and you’ll be able to find products that can be repurposed from builds at the moment to your own home and just completely remove that problem of what do you do with that when it becomes wasted and rebuild. It then gets repurposed into a new design or a new build. So, I’ll drop that one in there as well.

 

Sandra Redlich  46:25

The one question left to ask. And you just mentioned the Revival app that’s kind of focusing on repurposing, especially building waste. And you’ve mentioned before, Scott, that there’s different ways to kind of, to get businesses involved to get people involved is, you know, providing infrastructure and knowledge and stuff. But in that one way, it’s also to change the legislation or building codes. And yeah, maybe that’s one way that we could push a little bit of that initiative forward. So if you were given the chance to change anything in the existing building code, with looking at how waste is managed on building sites. What would you – or anything really doesn’t have to be waste related, I’m just assuming that you would want it to be waste related – what would you change in the building code, if you get the chance?

 

Scott Bryant  47:17

Oh, this might flush me out as not being anywhere near as familiar with the building codes as yourselves or your listeners, but almost two. I’ll cheekily take two because I’m very selfish here. One probably more on that waste side of things is mandated minimum recycling percentages for builds, in terms of if you talk to any even moderately innovative and environmentally minded builders, they’ll tell you, I can easily get 90% recovery off my site by weight in terms of just a few different skip bins, and just making sure that my subcontractors are toeing the line and just requires a bit more pre-planning, but as in easily achievable. And that would make a massive dent in our construction and demolition waste. I think more broadly, probably, in the direction that the embodied carbon rating tool that’s out for consultation by NatHERS at the moment is heading to, almost having a similar… I think, it should also be for energy consumption of houses, but a minimum rating on all new builds. And effectively all buildings, because renters who are looking for a place should be able to do that. See what is the operational cost of my household in terms of kilowatt hours per meter squared, as well as what is and also water usage would be a good one. But also, I think, to have a stamp for this as the build quality is, what are the emissions, the embodied emissions from this build, because ideally, each building is going to have a building in materials inventory. So building materials inventory, so that end of life, people know exactly what’s in that building. So if you are going to remove the building rather than repurpose it, you can deconstruct it and you know exactly what’s in it. So you can send it to the right places or you can reuse it if you want so I think I’ve gone well beyond my one or two asks, they’re similar but I think those would be some really great things to see especially being able to compare apples with apples and it still boggles my mind having come back to Australia three years ago that in 2023 I can’t tell you whether my house or the house of my neighbors in here performs better energy wise without trying to see their energy bill and even that doesn’t tell me much because they could love their television or maybe I love running three refrigerators. I only have one everybody, but you know, just being able to compare apples with apples and make some smart choices, let alone keeping I guess, designers both the feet to the fire like yourself, Anthony in terms of how many emissions went into building it as well is how operationally efficient it is. I think we’d start to get some really creative designs, let alone starting to manage our waste better on site. So it’s no longer waste, but a material to go for recycling.

 

Sandra Redlich  50:12

So that it’s a waste to waste them. I love that rhetoric that you use there. Fascinating. Well, I love that we’re kind of ending on a positive note and with a lot of exciting wishes for the future. But I always like to think that we are putting these wishes out into the universe, and you know, but they’re not completely made up like, well, there’s a lot of people in the background that are working on solutions for this. And bringing the knowledge to the plate and trying to better the way we’re building houses, the way we’re using and reusing and recycling and even just sharing knowledge. And yeah, inspiring other people to do that. You know, one little thing that is easy for them to do. It’s a big conversation to have. Thank you so much for sharing your insights and your knowledge and giving us some ideas about what on a city level Bendigo is doing, but also what on an individual or company level people can do to do their part.

 

Scott Bryant  51:10

Absolute pleasure. Thank you both for having me.

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