An $11-million University of Waikato-led research project to develop New Zealand’s circular economy has partnered with the Sustainable Business Network, Government agencies, and materials recovery, recycling and waste management provider, Waste Management, to help businesses build a circular economy.
Go Circular 2025 was launched late last month. The project aims to provide practical tools for businesses to help shift from a “take-make-waste” linear economy to one in which waste, pollution and greenhouse gases are designed out of industries.
Project partners include Āmiomio Aotearoa, led by the University of Waikato and funded by the Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE), the Sustainable Business Network, Ministry for the Environment, New Zealand Trade and Enterprise, and Waste Management.
Associate Dean of Research and Postgraduate at Waikato Management School and Director of the New Zealand Institute for Business Research, Dr Eva Collins said Āmiomio, which launched in 2020, is a multidisciplinary project combining expertise across business, science and engineering.
The project aims to define what a circular economy is for Aotearoa using the principles of mātauranga Māori.
It was also exploring the barriers to circularity for businesses and designing products for the packaging and construction sectors from natural resources and materials currently landfilled.
Dr Collins said the environment had reached a global tipping point.
“Moving to a circular economy will support New Zealand’s long-term competitiveness, create value and enable a transition to a sustainable, low-emission climate-resilient future that supports the wellbeing of our people and our place.”
Ministry for the Environment figures estimate more than three million tonnes of construction and demolition waste is sent to landfills every year. Construction industry waste accounts for up to 50 percent of New Zealand’s waste.
As well, the building and construction industry is estimated to produce about 20 percent of carbon emissions through the energy and materials currently used in building.
In addition, while Government has pledged to phase out many single-use plastics by 2025, New Zealanders currently send 60 kilograms of plastics per person to landfill every year.
Dr Collins said transitioning to a low-carbon circular economy meant New Zealand could avoid costly extraction, creation, and disposal of resources and instead focus on regenerating healthy, natural systems,. However, she cautioned the change in focus would require a significant shift in the way people thought, lived, and worked.
Dr Collins said Āmiomio was pleased to be collaborating in the Go Circular 2025 programme as they scaled up their research.
As part of the partnership, Dr Collins said Āmiomio would be conducting an in-depth study to identify opportunities for circularity and explore businesses’ understanding of what a circular economy is.
“There are many companies in New Zealand that are showing a real interest, but the idea of a circular economy, or how you create one, is not broadly understood.”
She said many businesses still viewed a circular economy merely as recycling but there was a need to implement much bolder strategies than that.
“We hope our partnership with the Sustainable Business Network will define more clearly what a circular economy is and means for Aotearoa and how our businesses and communities can achieve it.
“The Government sees the circular economy as a key driver in creating a low-emission, climate-resilient future. Āmiomio is working with New Zealand’s key industries to design a circular economy.”
Āmiomio Aotearoa involves researchers from across disciplines at the University of Waikato, University of Canterbury, Victoria University of Wellington, Massey University, University of Otago, University of Auckland, SCION, Manaaki Whenua Landcare Research, BRANZ Ltd, and several international partner organisations.