Bright ideas for managing waste

Living Well | Peter Barrett | Images: Getty, Supplied | Posted on 21 April 2021

A new exhibition showcases inspiring ideas for solving Victoria’s waste problem.

While Victorians have generally embraced recycling, dutifully sorting our bottles and boxes from the rest of our rubbish in the happy expectation that they will be whisked away and remade into new bottles and boxes – and, who knows, perhaps even garden furniture – in recent years the uncomfortable truth has emerged that we are producing more waste than we can effectively recycle.

According to Sustainability Victoria, in 2019-20 almost two thirds of what Victorians put in their recycling bins – a massive 390,000 tonnes of recyclables – was dumped into landfill. That was almost four times the 2014-15 level.

e-waste pile

What to do with the tsunami of waste generated by our throwaway society is one of the great challenges of our times. 



The full scale of our waste problem broke into the public consciousness in July 2017 when a massive stockpile of contaminated plastic waste caught fire at the SKM Recycling plant in Coolaroo. The blaze burned for 11 days, covering Melbourne’s northern suburbs with acrid smoke and causing 100 homes to be evacuated. 

But things were about to get worse when, in early 2018, China announced a ban on importing low-grade recyclables from Australia. The ban meant thousands more tonnes of waste that would previously have been shipped overseas for recycling now ended up in local landfill, or worse, in highly flammable, illegal stockpiles. Just this month, investigators found a huge stockpile of dangerous e-waste, including discarded batteries and explosive airbag detonators, at an unlicensed recycling facility in Ringwood.

The circular solution

What to do with the tsunami of waste generated by our throwaway society – whether it be food, clothing, electronics or plastics – is one of the great challenges of our time. There are no easy answers, but many believe our best shot at a solution lies in the concept of a circular economy. Simply put, a circular economy replaces the current model of make-use-dispose with a new paradigm where resources are reused, repurposed and recycled in order to reduce consumption of new materials and eliminate waste. 

It’s not just a feel-good theory. Last year, a CSIRO-commissioned report by KPMG estimated that if a circular economy were to be implemented in the food, transport and built environment sectors, by 2025 the material savings would add $23 billion to Australia’s GDP.

Circular economy concept

The idea of a circular economy is to preserve natural resources that would otherwise be dumped into landfill. 


Sean Trewick, founding director and CEO of change advocate Circular Economy Victoria (CEV) says transitioning to a circular economy is also crucial in order to achieve goals such as the Paris Climate objectives. “Closing resource loops and getting people to recognise the inherent value of materials is what’s going to move the needle towards sustainable development goals or climate targets,” he says.

Innovating against waste

The concept of the circular economy is explored in a series of exhibitions, talks and interactive workshops at this year’s Melbourne Knowledge Week. Among them is the A Circular Future workshop, which aims to help people learn the difference between a linear and circular economy, and Designing For The Planet, in which social enterprise and RACV partner STREAT discusses designing actions to reduce organic waste.

But perhaps most fascinating is the Melbourne Circular Future exhibition, hosted by CEV and RMIT Activator, which showcases more than 20 innovative Australian products and services that promise to help us transition to a less wasteful society.  

CEV’s Sean Trewick hopes the exhibition will not only enable visitors to see what some of our most innovative entrepreneurs are up to, but that it might also inspire people to implement circular-economy initiatives in their own business, community or as an entrepreneur in their own start-up. “What we really want is for people to walk out inspired and thinking that they can help accelerate the transition to a circular economy within Victoria – to think, yes, I can.”

The Melbourne Circular Future exhibition runs from 26 to 30 April at 102-104 Victoria Street, Carlton. Here’s a taste of some of the ideas on show.

Recycled solar panels on purple background

Solar Recovery Corporation wants to help you harness the power of solar long after your panels have stopped working. 


15 bright ideas for managing waste


Recycling innovations

Eliminate recycling bin contamination

A smart sensor scans individual items and unlocks the bin only for items that can be successfully recycled. Charopy’s smart bins, which debuted at a Sydney shopping centre last year, are now available for offices, factories, food outlets and other organisations.

Recycle solar panels

A machine sorts and separates materials from used and unwanted solar panels so they can be ‘re-injected’ back into solar manufacturing industries. Solar Recovery Corporation claims its innovative technology can recover 95 per cent of the materials from each photovoltaic cell. 

Close the loop on soft plastics and toner powder

Soft plastics and toner powder from used printer cartridges are added to asphalt roads to make them more durable. After nearly 10 years in development TonerPlas is currently being tested and trialled on Australian roads.

Subscription-only raw material exchange 

matX’s technology platform simplifies the recycling and reuse of materials from the construction and demolition industries by matching excess and unwanted materials with businesses that need them.

Biofilta food cubes

Grow food anywhere with Biofilta’s Foodcubes. Image: Facebook.


Food waste innovations

Make fertiliser from food waste

Enrich360Cirque Du Soil and Green Eco Technologies pick up everything from waste meat, fish, fruit and vegetables to flower displays from offices and businesses, then turn them into fertiliser using industrial dehydrators.

Transform excess and unwanted produce into chutney

The mother-and-son team at Eat Me Chutneys takes organic, biodynamic or chemical-free produce that’s too ugly to be sold through regular channels and make it into chutney. 

Food-waste insect farm

Beyond Ag feeds food waste to insects, which are turned into protein-rich pet food and treats, livestock feed and organic fertiliser.

Make food growing more accessible to city dwellers 

Biofilta’s specially designed Foodcube wicking garden systems, made from UV-stabilised recycled plastic, improve water efficiency and minimise labour to make things easy for the urban farmer.

Upparel recycled socks

The future of sustainable textiles is bright with these upcycled socks from award-winning sustainable retailer Upparel. Photo: Facebook.


Textile innovations

Upcycle clothes 

A Fitting Connection collects unwanted, old and waste textiles and upcycles them into new clothes. Visit their ReFashioned online shop to buy everything from upcycled fingerless gloves to necktie scarves.

Transform old socks and jocks into building materials

Upparel, formerly known as MANRAGS, invites customers to send back used clothes which are then either forwarded to partners such as Save The Children and Sacred Heart Mission, or separated, shredded, and used in making roof tiles, insulation, office partitions and stuffing for pet beds. 

Repairable furniture designed for longevity

Bengo creates modular furniture designs from quality materials that last a long time, are easy to replace and break apart to move. The company started making bedding in 2012 and has since branched out into furniture.

Shop for recycled clothes via Charity Bay app

Do your bit for the planet and for charity by shopping for recycled items using the Charity Bay app. Photo: Unsplash


Other innovations

A community-run library of things

Sharing Shed Melbourne members pay an annual fee to make use of a range of useful tools, from donated lawnmowers to camping gear.  

Digital packaging for cosmetics

Currently at the pilot stage, the Rook app is designed to minimise packaging waste by allowing users to scan cosmetic items, such as face creams, to get all the product information they need.

Reusable soap dispenser

Single Use Ain’t Sexy’s bottle-pump soap dispenser can be refilled with water and a simple soap tablet, minimising packaging waste.

Second-hand goods app for charity 

CharityBay is an online selling app, along the lines of Facebook marketplace, that allows sellers to nominate a charity which will instantly receive 95 per cent of the sale price.