Recovering wealth from waste worth billions

A bale of recycling copper. Picture by hroephoto, iStock

A bale of recycling copper. Picture by hroephoto, iStock

In summary: 
  • UTS's Institute for Sustainable Futures is leading a three-year research program to spearhead the reclamation of metals locked up in landfills or discarded products
  • The Wealth from Waste collaboration, involving the CSIRO and several other universities, has identified that more than $2 billion is lost to the Australian economy every year from failure to recycle waste metals

More than $2 billion is lost to the Australian economy every year from failure to recycle waste metals, research has shown.

Findings of the Wealth from Waste research collaboration led by UTS is revealing the value that could be recouped from 'mining' above-ground waste resources.

Partners in the three-year research program formally launched last week in Sydney include the CSIRO, Monash University, University of Queensland, Swinburne University of Technology and Yale University.

UTS Institute for Sustainable Futures researcher Dr Damien Giurco, who will lead the research collaboration, said the potential rewards from recovering and recycling waste metals was significant.

Institute for Sustainable Futures Director Professor Stuart White speaks at a panel discussion for the launch of Wealth from Waste. Picture by Xavier Mayes Institute for Sustainable Futures Director Professor Stuart White speaks at a panel discussion for the launch of Wealth from Waste. Picture by Xavier Mayes

"We've found that recovering the five million tonnes of metals such as iron, aluminum and copper locked up in landfills or discarded products could provide up to 70 per cent of Australia's metal consumption each year," Dr Giurco said.

"We are seeing products, supply chains and business models being redesigned in forward-thinking international centres to exploit the vast value in recycling metals reclaimed in waste."

Australia cannot rely solely on a 'take-make-dispose' economy if it wants to remain competitive, according to CSIRO Minerals Down Under Flagship director Jonathan Law.

"Recovering high-value resources already extracted by mining is a huge opportunity for companies in the manufacturing and services sectors looking to innovate," Mr Law said.

In what is a challenging time for many sectors of the Australian economy, unlocking the potential of the 'circular economy' will ensure Australian companies retain their competitive advantage, said UTS Business School's Professor of Sustainable Enterprise Suzanne Benn.

"In a circular economy, the re-use and remanufacturing of products becomes standard practice, so that companies start to close the loop on their daily operations," Professor Benn said.

"It's an exciting approach because it encourages new business models and opens up opportunities for convergence with revolutionary digital practices like 3D printing."

Alexander Collot d'Escury, CEO of global carpets, carpet tiles and sports pitches company Desso, explained that the circular economy was more than just recycling.

"Companies such as ours are beginning to see the benefits of making a product good from the start. Through design and innovation we make products that deliver outstanding value in design and functionality and thus contribute to people's health and wellbeing," Mr Collot d'Escury said.

For more details on the Wealth from Waste cluster visit the CSIRO website.

Really surprising information. If Australia's position is this, I wonder What would be the reality about India about the value of metal waste.