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The size and complexity of the waste challenge facing society dominated discussion at the first stakeholders’ meeting of the newly announced Circular Economy Innovation Network (CEIN).

The CEIN is an initiative of the NSW government through the Office of the Chief Scientist and Engineer to bring together stakeholders from across governments, industry, universities and not-for-profit groups to reduce waste and enhance sustainability by developing a circular economy in which waste is valued as a resource.

CEIN Director, Professor Veena Sahajwalla, who is Founding Director of the UNSW Centre for Sustainable Materials Research and Technology (SMaRT) Centre, said many stakeholders already had been making great progress in reducing waste and using it as a resource, and the first stakeholders meeting was a testament to that.

“What is clear is that we need much greater coordination and connectivity across stakeholders to identify the opportunities and problems in getting a circular economy really going,” she said. “And that is where the new Network comes in. CEIN will bring stakeholders together to not only enhance current efforts to build a circular economy, but to identify the big-impact opportunities.”

CEIN Co-Director, Ashley Brinson, who is Executive Director of the Warren Centre at Sydney University, said the passion and enthusiasm displayed during the first stakeholder meeting session demonstrated a strong collective desire to establish a truly circular economy in NSW and Australia.

“We heard from both the Chair and Co-Chair of the NSW government’s Steering Committee for the CEIN, as well as many stakeholders representing the different sectors and industries that are central to a circular economy, and a key acknowledgement was the need for a coordination of sustainability efforts.”

The CEIN will look to map and identify opportunities for stakeholders to work together to reduce waste, enhance sustainability and ultimately boost industry (growth and jobs) by developing a circular economy.

The first stakeholders’ meeting was held at UNSW as CEIN host, was attended by 150 stakeholders wanting to enhance sustainability, and was emceed by Michael Sharpe, Director of the federal government-initiated Advanced Manufacturing Growth Centre.

The CEIN is in start-up phase and is developing a series of stakeholder workshops to identify themes and opportunities, as well as other activities such as identifying tools and resources needed to promote innovative solutions to re-use waste and improve product design and production to reduce waste.

Professor Sahajwalla said: “For instance, we can actually change the way things are done now in design, production and manufacturing to reduce waste, and we know we can use waste as a resource rather than for most of it to end up in tips. By making the right connections between researchers, businesses and governments, we can play a significant role in developing a true circular economy in Australia.”