More pressure shapes “bourgeois consumers”

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through | November 22, 2022 12:31 | news

Most people have never heard of a circular economy, but experts say it’s what Australia needs.

A circular economy involves more than switching to renewable energy to reduce carbon emissions or adding another bin with a different colored lid for curbside collection.

Rather, more reuse, repair, purchase used, remodel for longer use, lease, donate and recycle could be built into the design, manufacture and sale of goods.

The rising cost of living has raised awareness and concerns about consumption and waste, Commonwealth Bank circular economy expert David Martin said at a conference on Tuesday.

But the underlying motivations differ across generations, he said.

Younger Australians say they want to go circular because of climate change, while baby boomers and older Australians want to send less to landfill, according to a CommBank survey of 5,600 consumers.

He said there is an outpouring of support for the circular economy, but it has yet to reach the masses.

Most (61 percent) had never heard of the term, while 15 percent had heard of circular economy but didn’t know what it meant, the Consumer Insights survey found.

“Another problem is that the amount of stuff we have is just so big and we see it every time we turn the corner in our house,” he said.

For example, an estimated 146 million unused pieces of clothing gather dust, although many say they do regular spring cleaning and a quarter say they clear out at least once a year.

“And 14 percent never do it, which blows my mind,” he told the Australian Circular Economy Conference.

For businesses, the overwhelming feedback was that there weren’t enough options to help customers reduce waste.

But consumers say they want companies to do more.

And just over a third of consumers were willing to pay more to support a more sustainable business.

Nicole Garofano, head of circular economy development at environmental organization Planet Ark, said governments should encourage “common consumers” with more information and tax breaks for repairs.

“So every time we stand and look at the shelf, is there an opportunity to make these decisions — do I buy or not?”

She said Citizens’ consumers have a different mindset – it’s not just about consuming for convenience or prestige.

Recycling allows bottles, cellphones, and other items to be broken down and reprocessed into new materials, while a reuser can buy or sell clothing, vehicles, or tools and circulate them through the economy.

Consumers may not be involved in the design phase but can make purchasing decisions.

dr Garofano said they should consider whether the product will last, whether they have the right to repair it, and whether it can be deconstructed rather than ending up in a landfill.

Leading chemical engineer Professor Ali Abbas, Australia’s first Chief Circular Engineer, works with independent organization Circular Australia to transform business and industry.

For example, when a household buys a new solar energy system, it could lease the solar panels and have them serviced and repaired for longer use, and eventually recycled.

Breakthroughs in processing also mean manufacturers can start “designing” waste and pollution to manage complex crises, Prof Abbas said.

“It goes beyond decarbonization and includes biodiversity loss,” he said.

But he said it cannot rely on scientific processes alone – economic structures and mindsets must change.

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