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Circular economy: the rise of the Zero Waste industry – by Dr Tony Wilkins

30/03/2016 11:36 AM

Dr Tony Wilkins has been the Head of Environment at News Corp Australia for 26 years. Tony chairs the publishing industry’s Environment Advisory Group and sits on two NSW Environment Trust Committees including “Waste and Recycling”, in addition to being a member of NSW’s Container Deposit Scheme Advisory Committee. 

A Zero Waste industry is something that Australian publishers have been working towards for some time. Back when I started working on environment at News in 1990, Australians were only recycling 28% of their newspapers. No newsprint with a recycled content was made in Australia. Waste ink and photographic chemicals were often disposed of rather than recycled. We have of course come a long way since then with Australia’s first newsprint de-inking and recycling plant commissioned in 1995 at Australian Newsprint Mills at Albury. The site is now owned by Norske Skog and is still making newsprint with a recycled fibre component. Our waste ink is less and less and what is there is recycled. Photographic chemicals disappeared as digital photography became the norm.

The 1990s was a decade of rapidly growing environmental awareness, with recycling initiatives taking centre stage. The decade at the start of the century saw a growing trend to efficiency as government and business focussed on reducing global warming through energy efficiency.  The current decade has seen a focus on reporting, disclosure and further reducing the impacts of pollution.

Across the world communities are growing their demands for clean air, water and protection of our environment. At the same time, low growth economies need to be more efficient and governments and industry are responding. As part of this growing evolution of environmental awareness we can see the political focus on reducing litter and increased recycling across Australia. NSW has committed to a 40% reduction in litter and Container Deposit Scheme introduction by 2017… joining South Australia and the Northern Territory and setting the framework for States like Queensland and the ACT which are considering it.

In response to community expectations, industry has frequently led on environment. The evolution of the circular economy is proving to be no different. The Zero Waste Business Alliance has set a standard of 90% diversion of waste from landfill. Several of the world’s major businesses are setting zero waste goals… Unilever for example is already achieving it with its non-hazardous waste.

Now, growing in focus is the new thinking of evolving “circular economies” where all resources including what we used to call waste are reused. Zero Waste is a centrepiece of this future thinking.

News Corp is also tracking to zero waste globally for its owned print sites and here at News Corp Australia we have set our zero goals to include all our owned facilities by the end of 2018. Already at News we have several print sites meeting the Zero Waste Business Alliance definition of Zero Waste by reusing and recycling more than 90% of waste.