State of Play for Circular Built Environment in Oceania

Type of document: Scientific, technical, research

This report examines the challenges and opportunities arising from transitioning to a circular economy in Australia and New Zealand. The fact is that as populations rise, material use increases. Historically, we have seen a trend globally whereby material use per person increases as incomes grow. In developed economies, waste has largely been ‘out of sight, out of mind’.

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If emerging economies and least developed countries begin to adopt the same trajectories as those of the developed world, we will be locked into a linear approach and reach a point of no return globally. As the built environment ‘churns’ out products and materials through complicated processes of inputs and outputs, the building and construction sector needs to start taking some responsibility for the waste it produces. Throughout Oceania the main streams of waste – municipal solid waste, construction and demolition waste and commercial and industrial waste – are not being mined to the full extent possible. A complex web of issues related to undervaluing the concept of waste itself, market pricing signals, untapped/unexplored market mechanisms, government policy and community education is contributing to the problem. States in Australia and New Zealand have been forced to confront the waste crisis due to China’s ‘National Sword’ policy. Rather than developing yet another mechanism for waste management, there is an opportunity to leverage the current crisis in order to establish a circular economy based on a resource optimisation strategy. This would need to recognise the importance of an inherently holistic, systemic approach.