Materials scientists from Deakin University’s Institute for Frontier Materials (IFM) will address representatives of Victoria’s waste management sector about their innovative approach to tackling the global recycling crisis at an all-day circular economy conference at the university’s Waurn Ponds (Geelong) Campus on 26th August.
The IFM team is working on a range of projects that plan a material’s life from its original use to its final use, which they say is essential to addressing the problem that is now gripping the world.
Circular Economy Strategy Lead Catherine McMahon says the team’s members are world leaders in their approach to materials design with their ‘design out waste’ ethos.
“We’re in this recycling crisis because our current generation of materials aren’t designed to be recycled or repurposed,” she says.
“We are a global leader in materials science because at IFM we’re re-designing materials with waste eradication in mind. This is key to circular economy approach.
“It’s about being proactive, because humans have been reactive on the recycling issue for too long. Conventional waste recycling is the band-aid, with the fix a circular economy.”
McMahon says that when IFM scientists are creating a product for its initial purpose, they already know what it will be in its next life too.
“This process involves the careful consideration of a material’s next life,” she says. “It’s about ensuring that materials are always totally recycled without any environmental harm or waste, whilst maintaining their highest possible value during that repurposing process.
“While many materials, like a poly-cotton blend, can be partially recycled, the process leads to waste and devalues the material. At IFM, our scientists are designing materials that are made to separate so that all of the materials are easily reused or biodegrades. This maintains the highest possible value of the material.
“This is critical to addressing issues of pollution and waste around industries like fast-fashion, for example.”
She says the researchers are also examining ways to maximise value from waste while they design materials with extraordinary functionality to achieve a waste-free world.
“Some of the ways our world-leading scientists are doing this is by looking at turning end of life textiles into bone repair systems, used silk material into artificial blood vessels, textile fibres into vaccines and usually discarded textile waste into leather interior alternatives for cars,” she says.
Biowaste is another material that IFM is working to repurpose as part of the circular approach. During the sugarcane milling process, almost 20 per cent ends up as biowaste, which is often disposed of by burning.
“We have researchers working on how waste from sugar cane production can be turned into capsules for medicine delivery,” McMahon says. “We must be smarter with the waste that comes from basic production too. All waste, and its potential use, must be considered if we’re to be truly circular.”
McMahon will be the opening speaker at the conference, which hopes to raise awareness of the key principles of a circular economy and examine state and national approaches to circular design.
“It’s an exciting space to be involved in,” she says. “If we made products from their inception thinking about their end of life then we will never have a recycling crisis again.”