Investigating Innovative Waste Economies: redrawing the circular economy



Australia is facing a waste crisis and government and industry are promoting the circular economy (CE) as a solution. Current policies about the CE represent waste as an opportunity. The question is: what kind of opportunity? Many existing approaches to the CE endorse technical innovations for reusing waste materials and extending their value. However, they fail to account for the complex economic and cultural causes of endemic wastage and can implicitly support business as usual. They also ignore the vast array of social innovations currently remaking waste economies and redrawing the circle. Rather than see waste as an opportunity, this project sees it as a provocative force that is generating diverse economic arrangements and new social practices.

The aim of the project is to investigate social and economic innovations with waste in three problematic waste streams: single-use plastics, organics and textiles. This knowledge will be used to extend the current policy debate about the circular economy in order to recognise the critical role of social and economic- not just technical - innovations around the waste.

The project will contribute empirical evidence and new thinking about how different waste/economy-ecology relations are developed and what kinds of cultural innovations are generated as a result. Outcomes will include national and international case studies of novel waste economies in the three waste streams, social learning events with industry stakeholders and academic papers. Key benefits will be evidence of how different waste practices can provoke more sustainable economies and ways of living.

Research Team

Funding: ARC Discovery Grant 20191.50389

Period: 2021 – 2024

Watch Liviana session: Drawing/Redrawing Economies: Waste and the appeal of circularity (opens in a new window)

Gay Hawkins at     
Stephen Healy at