Circular economy: closing the loop

The potential of products made from recycled materials was on display at the Advanced Manufacturing Growth Centre’s (AMGC) “The Path to a Circular Economy” event.

In focus were materials such as plastics and textiles, which through advanced manufacturing processes are being re-used or recycled to create new products.

Single-use plastics, which would otherwise end up in landfill or the environment are being broken down and repurposed for optical devices by NSW company, Dresden Optics.

Combining new and used waste plastics, Dresden makes glasses from milk bottle tops, marine debris that has washed up on beaches, and a number of other products. According to Michael Sharpe, NSW director of AMGC, not only are the waste materials valuable for manufacturers as a source of raw materials, but also as a potential branding opportunity, through tracing the origin of the product.

“With advanced manufacturing technology, sensors can tell people which beach the plastic washed up on, on what date, what time it was sent, what date it arrived to the shop, and now what they are wearing on their face. There’s a whole traceability around the waste as well, which I think is fantastic. People really value that information,” said Sharpe.

For textile manufacturers, there is already the foundations of a circular economy to tap into, through re-use programs run through charities and sold in op-shops. According to UNSW scientia professor, Veena Sahajwalla, the next step is to take those fabrics which have reached the end of their use life after going through second-hand networks and create new products.

“We need to start to think, ‘well if a product is not fit for reuse as a garment does that mean that those fundamental elements, those fibres that are present in our garments are useless?’

“Of course not. Just because something has fallen apart at a macro level, at the micro level those fibres are still well and truly alive and kicking,” said Sahajwalla.