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Circular economy solutions to plastic waste

CSIRO is collaborating with partners in India and Australia to catalyse innovation in plastic supply chains for greater circularity.

Overview

Australia and India share the challenge of combatting one of the most pressing environmental issues: plastic pollution. They also share the ambition to transition to a circular economy for plastics. 

In 2020, Australia and India elevated their ties to a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership, reflecting the countries' commitment to cooperation to address major global challenges. From this Partnership the ‘India-Australia Industry and Research Collaboration for Reducing Plastic Waste’ was created and funded by the Australian Government. 

CSIRO, Australia's national science agency, was tasked with bringing together six institutions for a three-year research collaboration to catalyse innovation in plastic supply chains for greater circularity. Research activities include:

Metrics and data

  • Develop metrics and establish datasets that enable assessment of the magnitude of plastics waste and how quickly waste flows are growing in India.
  • Develop an understanding of the main supply chains for different polymers in India and associated waste flow destinations and leakages to waterways and oceans.

Innovation and technology 

  • Co-develop an industry and technology roadmap for a plastics circular economy unlocking future growth opportunities. These include short-term opportunities for enhanced recycling of current plastics waste flows and accumulated plastic stockpiles; and medium-and long-term strategies for industrial redesign and creation of new materials, products, processes and business models that allow for depolymerisation.

Policy and Behaviour 

  • Identify growth opportunities and new industries and factors enabling sector change, including assessment of infrastructure, regulations, market access, sector structure, skills and culture and strategic planning through the roadmap process.
  • Evaluate and monitor the initiative, identify policy implications for economic and employment growth enabled by new industries based on scientific innovation, and plan for scale-up in follow-up bilateral activities between Australia and India.

Demonstration Projects

  • Establish new opportunities and create innovation capacity through identifying Australian industry partners to establish demonstration projects through industrial redesign and new business models.
  • Implement demonstration projects located in different parts of India, including both urban and rural locations, small community scale and large industrial scale applications.
  • Undertake assessments of economic and environmental implications of the demonstration projects.

Outcomes

What we have done so far

The first two years have been focused on three main research activities – Metrics and Data, Innovation and Technology, and Policy and Behaviour.  A number of publicly available reports and manuscripts produced by the research team can be found here.

Activities have included data collection via semi-structured interviews in India and Australia with relevant stakeholders, policy reviews, material flows analysis, reviews of community industry and public sector initiatives related to plastic waste, a practice review of circular business models, a review of plastic recycling technological and manufacturing options in India and Australia, a review of behaviour change programs, and identifying gaps in knowledge and research.

What is to come

Researchers will continue to build on findings of the first two years of the project which will contribute to the planned national circular economy roadmap. This roadmap will help drive the transformation of the plastic waste economy in India into a circular economy, by designing out waste and pollution, keeping materials and products in use many times over, and reducing pressure on natural resources.

The roadmap will be developed with industry, government and community participants, and aims to:

  • Establish an innovation partnership between industry, government, civil society and the R&D community to identify solutions within the next one to three years.
  • Reduce the amount of plastics that go to landfill or leak to the environment by 75% by 2030.
  • Achieve a fully circular economy of plastics through designing out waste, reusing and recycling of end-of-life materials by 2040.   

Funding partners

This project is funded by the Australian Government Department of Industry, Science and Resources.