When going around in circles, is the way forward? Changing the conversation around ‘waste’

When going around in circles, is the way forward? Changing the conversation around ‘waste’

March 3, 2020
Press Release: Australian Academy of Science

Australians must start treating waste as a resource rather than a problem, according to recycling science expert Professor Veena Sahajwalla

In a feature published on the Australian Academy of Science website, she welcomed plans by federal and state governments to develop a so-called ‘circular economy’ but said Australians also need to change the way they think about waste.

The role of science to help drive a circular economy is just one of the issues that will be explored in a new initiative, Science for Australians, launched by the Australian Academy of Science.

“Australians may be shocked to know that on average we each generate 2.7 tons of waste each year,” says Professor Sahajwalla, who is director, Centre for Sustainable Materials, Research and Technology (SMART) at UNSW Sydney and Director of the NSW Circular Economy Innovation Network. “But waste doesn’t mean rubbish! Among all that waste is an opportunity to re-use, recycle and reform the materials and products we no longer use for new applications.”

Professor Sahajwalla – who joined 200 leaders in Canberra on 2 March for a national summit to discuss Australia’s plastic waste problem and identify new solutions to the challenge – has developed breakthrough micro-recycling technologies to reform waste into new materials and products.

Academy President Professor John Shine said the Science for Australians series will highlight how science benefits all Australians and how it can be used to inform policy. “Australians are looking for trustworthy information and answers for how science can help in these challenging times we are facing as a nation. This is reflected in a record-breaking near 250,000 unique users to our website in January.”

The initiative will also include a series of features for policy-makers to highlight the conditions that are needed to make science thrive in Australia.

“Globally STEM will play an increasingly important role in industry, in the economy and in the way communities shape their future,” said Professor Shine. “It is important that an environment is created within which we can support our scientific workforce, remain globally competitive, and ensure science and industry have the tools they need to work together and prosper.”

“As part of the initiative, the Academy will also invite discussion about issues that are important to building the capacity of science to support Australia now and into the future.”

Other topics to be explored in the Academy’s Science for Australians series include: how can science make our energy requirements more sustainable; is gene editing food crops the only way to feed the population; and how do we advance communications technologies and ensure national security is not compromised?

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