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Funding boost for NZ circular economy research

Sustainability Matters

October 8, 2020

Engineering Professor Kim Pickering has been awarded $10.9 million in Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) Endeavour funding to explore a circular economy concept created for the Aotearoa New Zealand context — shaped by the philosophies and values of both founding cultures: M?ori and European.

?miomio Aotearoa — a circular economy for the wellbeing of New Zealand is a five-year program that aims to deliver a transformative multidisciplinary platform that integrates essential bodies of knowledge, research communities, novel insights and practical actions that can contribute to circular economy success in New Zealand.

Professor Pickering has created a team of investigators with expertise in materials science, engineering/design, energy, economics, Kaupapa Ma?ori, business, law and regulation, social science and public policy.

Underpinned by a transition to renewable energy sources, a circular economy aims to reduce waste and the continual use of resources by seeking a sustainable model of production and consumption of goods and services in contrast to the traditional linear economy, which follows a ‘take, make, dispose’ model as resources are only used once.

The circular economy model is cyclical in nature, while being regenerative by design, seeking to maintain products, components and materials at their highest value as long as possible. A shift to a circular economy in New Zealand would play a significant role in meeting the aims of key government policies related to sustainable development and wellbeing. It presents a major opportunity to improve the country’s long-term competitiveness, to create value across the economy and to simultaneously provide regenerative environmental benefits and enable a sustainable, low-emission, climate-resilient future.

Professor Pickering’s research aims to reduce the burden of plastics on the environment by giving value to used plastic so it doesn’t become waste.

“Plastic itself is not the enemy, but what humans do with it can be,” she said.

“I enjoy getting to the bottom of material behaviour and I’m committed to finding alternatives to lessen environmental impact.”

Despite the transformative potential of the circular economy concept, it has yet to achieve significant uptake because, while the concept is intuitively appealing and widely supported, the underpinning research and knowledge required to realise it in practice are scattered across multiple disciplines and are collectively inadequate.

Professor Pickering said the MBIE-funded research program will help to address these gaps thanks to her team’s strong track record of transforming research into applied outcomes.

“Built on a combination of M?tauranga M?ori and science, this novel project will bring together a cross-section of disciplines, working in partnership with M?ori and in close collaboration with government, industry/business and the wider community,” Professor Pickering explained.

“Winning this funding further validates the positive society-wide benefits and growing importance of the concept of the circular economy as a way to attain sustainable development.

“This program feeds into our commitment to providing solutions to the problems and challenges that exist in our environment and the economy.”

Image caption: Professor Kim Pickering

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Construction, Development & Real Estate, Eco-Innovation, Energy