Waste is a huge and growing problem. It has been estimated that we need the equivalent of 1.7 Earths to replenish the consumed resources and absorb the pollution generated by consumer goods suppliers.
Waste is a global challenge, and there are numerous problematic waste streams such as plastic, textiles, food, agriculture and e-waste. The impact of plastic waste on ocean life is more immediate than climate change. It cogs waterways and kills birds and fish that consume it. Plastic, including takeaway coffee cups, plastic shopping bags, drinking straws, plastic cutlery and takeaway containers are all items typically used only once, possibly for just a few minutes, but will survive in landfill or the oceans for more than 100 years.
Humans are producing vastly more waste than our planet can sustain. The world’s people produce an astonishing 3.6 million metric tonnes of municipal solid waste each day. By 2025, this is projected to rise to 6.1 million tonnes per day. Landfills around the world emit 2.2 million tonnes of greenhouse gas per day, and more than 5.5 million tonnes of plastic is added to the oceans each year.
Our linear model of resource consumption is wasteful, harmful and unsustainable. Resources are extracted and harvested to create products for mostly single use and once used and/or consumed, these products largely end up as waste or incinerated. Many billions of tonnes of raw materials enter the economic system annually, with primary inputs increasing to an estimated 82 billion tonnes by 2020.
Researchers at Queensland University of Technology (QUT) have specialisations that match priority waste streams, including food and agricultural waste, e-waste, plastics, textiles and paper.
Shifting to a circular economy
To tackle the growing challenge around the impacts of waste, we need to shift to a circular economy. A circular economy requires material resources to remain in circulation as long as possible, and innovations in waste-to-resource are a growing area of interest locally, nationally and internationally.
At QUT’s Institute for Future Environments, the mission is to generate knowledge, technology and practices that make our world more sustainable, secure and resilient. The overarching goals of a waste-free world include:
More efficient use of resources by global industry
More environmentally sustainable life cycles for materials
Industry compelled to share the benefits of new materials with communities.
We love waste warriors like QUT’s Institute for Future Environments – for more on the program, click here.