Ryan Collins: How can we co-create circular solutions?

Ryan Collins: How can we co-create circular solutions?

Ryan Collins: How can we co-create circular solutions?

Ryan Collins: How can we co-create circular solutions?

Acknowledgement of Country: This interview was conducted on Gadigal Country. We pay our respects to the traditional custodians of this land, past, present and emerging. We recognise their deep connection to the land and their unique cultural heritage, which continues to enrich our shared community.

In this interview, we chat with Ryan Collins, head of circular economy programs at Planet Ark. Ryan shares Planet Ark's mission to accelerate the circular economy through the Australian Circular Economy Hub (ACE Hub). He also talks about the importance of knowledge sharing, and how governments, businesses and individuals can work together to drive this transition.

What are the major elements of transitioning to a circular economy?

According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, there are five levers that will enable the circular economy transition:

  1. Vision: Developing a vision and supporting it with roadmaps and strategies. This can happen at all levels of government. It extends beyond the environment and focuses on system change.
  2. Engagement: Raising awareness, building capacity and forging collaborations.
  3. Urban management: Implementing urban planning and asset management strategies. There could be huge opportunities for government procurement here.
  4. Economic incentives: Providing financial support and fiscal policies to encourage a transition.
  5. Regulation: Implementing legislation to enable innovation.

How does Planet Ark support the transition to a circular economy?

To transition to a circular economy, we need to redistribute knowledge and share ideas. The circular economy model is important to the future of business, but less than a third of businesses know what a circular economy is. So there's a gap in knowledge.

Small and medium enterprises make up over 90% of businesses in Australia, but they're often the group with the most barriers to action.

This is why we started the Australian Circular Economy Hub to share tools, resources and success stories in the circular economy. It's also a space to connect with the community. We have around 1,700 members, with over a quarter based in Sydney. I encourage you to join the community. It's free: sign up here.

We also run strategic events like the annual Circularity Conference, which brings government and industry together.

At Planet Ark, our role involves researching and understanding the opportunities for businesses in a circular economy. All our resources are free and available to everyone.

What are some of the prominent circular economy projects you've seen in the community?

One of the large-scale examples is the Quay Quarter Tower, designed by the Danish firm 3XN and developed with local architect BVN for AMP Capital. I'm glad that you chatted to BNV's co-CEO, Ninotschka about it. It's an office and retail precinct where they've implemented circular design on a mammoth scale. It was one of the biggest upcycling projects ever undertaken: 50 percent of the resources were directly reused from the existing building. That saved a huge amount of embodied carbon and financial costs.

At the start-up level, Worn Up is developing innovative products from school uniforms, which then go back into use by students. ShareWaste helps people recycle food scraps by connecting them with people who compost. It shows how the circular economy can build community connections.

Another example is the Cartridges 4 Planet Ark program, which has recycled more than 53 million cartridges over the last two decades. Planet Ark set up the program with recycler and innovator Close the Loop, and major manufacturers like Canon, HP and Epson. Retailers like Officeworks, JB Hi-Fi and Cartridge World provide drop-off locations.

The cartridges collected are recycled by Close the Loop and Downer Infrastructure, to create an eco-friendly asphalt called TonerPlas. It's more durable and cost effective than traditional asphalt, and has been laid on roads all across Australia.

What challenges are we facing? How can we overcome them?

There are several challenges impacting the circular economy transition. These include:

  1. Lack of urgency: To drive change, we must urgently raise awareness, and empower people with knowledge and motivation to act.
  2. Scaling up: There are lots of great ideas and initiatives, but scaling them up and expanding their impact can be challenging. Engaging investors with the environmental social governance (ESG) principles can help overcome this.
  3. Corporate focus on zero-emissions: While we need to reduce energy usage, we shouldn't forget that the way we make things and transport them is a big contributor to emissions. The circular economy provides solutions and opportunities to achieve the zero-emissions target.
  4. Misperceptions of secondary resources: Transparent sourcing can dispel the idea that secondary resources are inferior and instead highlight their value.
  5. Lack of government incentives and legislation: This can also hinder innovation. Government can encourage the transition through taxation, subsidies and other strategic interventions.

Overall, collaboration can help address the challenges of transition. First, we need to work with a coalition of the willing: those who know we need to act and who are committed to finding solutions. That's how we're going to get the most action and the most traction.

How can different levels of society support a circular economy?

Changes have been happening at different scales over the last few years. Governments, businesses and individuals are all getting involved.


We've started to see more leadership at the federal and state level, but a lot more work still needs to be done. At the local level, we're seeing great leadership. Councils like the City of Greater Bendigo, and collaborations like the Hunter Joint Organisation, are leading the way as early adopters and innovators.


Circularity pushes businesses to look beyond traditional business models and short-term financial value. This is the area where we're seeing innovation. It's no longer about selling as many products as possible. A circular model could involve providing a product as a service, sharing a product between users, or providing a service to maintain a product. Subscription models can build customer loyalty in the long run.


Individuals are becoming more aware of their choices and their impact on the environment. That needs to continue improving, but brand transparency and greenwashing can be a challenge.

What individuals can do is educate themselves and support businesses that are more circular. Reduce and refuse should be the first choices to avoid unnecessary waste.

Other conscious choices could include:

  • Choosing higher quality products if you can. These might cost more initially, but they last longer and provide more value in the long run.
  • Choosing secondhand goods and sharing resources with others. Local tool libraries are a great example.
  • Choosing recyclable products. Recycled materials help reduce our reliance on virgin materials.
  • Recycling correctly. Look out for the Australasian Recycling Label on packaging. Planet Ark's Recycling Near You directory is a helpful tool.

What's next for the circular economy transition in Sydney and across Australia?

If we take a leaf out of Geoffrey Moore's book, Crossing the Chasm, we can see what's needed next in terms of the adoption lifecycle. Innovators and early adopters are growing in number. But to reach a critical mass and achieve the change that's needed, we need to start engaging the early majority.

The late majority and the laggards will follow. The key is to demonstrate the growth potential for core businesses and markets.

I'd love to see more sharing economy models, like the library of things. As they become more common, they change how people think and show that they work well in our communities. This success can then influence businesses, investors, and governments to join in.

Learn more


This interview is part of ReCo Circular Sydney 2023 Series, supported by the City of Sydney Knowledge Exchange Sponsorship program. Explore more free content at: reco.net.au/circular-sydney

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Interviewed by Danling Xiao. Edited by Lucy Campbell.

Lucy Campbell is a writer and editor with a long-standing interest in and commitment to science and sustainability. Solicitude and solastalgia motivate her to preserve precious resources and promote positive change. Connect with Lucy on Linkedin.

Danling Xiao is the co-founder of ReCo Digital. Danling has an unwavering passion for creativity, spirituality and the pursuit of positive change in the world. Connect with Danling on Linkedin

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