By Nicky Stecca, Innovation Officer, City of Casey

As cities grow, it’s the responsibility of the local government to meet the needs of changing populations and environments, but this can only be achieved with sustainable and innovative solutions. Through collaboration with local businesses, universities, and social enterprises, the City of Casey is striving to test pathways for a more sustainable future with its Circular Economy Living Lab. Here Nicky Stecca, Innovation Officer at the City of Casey, outlines how community collaboration is the key to net-zero success.

The bustling City of Casey, in Victoria, is one of Australia’s most rapidly expanding and diverse communities, with its population anticipated to surge to over 616,000 residents by 2041, bringing with it an undeniable call to action.

As growth unfolds, the challenge lies not merely in accommodating these changes, but in doing so responsibly, embracing our role in protecting the environment and steering our economy onto a sustainable path.

Casey’s commitment to these goals is strongly echoed in the City of Casey Council Plan and Climate Action Plan. Anchored in the principles of a circular economy, we aim to minimise waste and strive towards net-zero emissions within our municipality by 2040.

The pursuit of such goals is shared by many Local Government Areas, but the path is often complex and multifaceted. Limited resources, lack of in-house expertise, and an urgent need for effective solutions can pose significant challenges. The key, therefore, lies in collaboration with external organisations—those that bring the necessary expertise, technology, and innovative spirit to the table.

Cultivating partnerships

At the heart of Casey’s efforts to create a sustainable future lies the Circular Economy Living Lab. Orchestrated by our Smart City and Innovation team, this initiative fosters the successful cultivation of partnerships with start-ups, universities, businesses, and social enterprises, creating a testing ground for innovative solutions through a co-funding model.

Selected through a competitive grant process, seven trailblazing projects have tackled areas identified by our community as high priority to address for a local circular economy – food waste, construction and demolition waste, and efficient use and maintenance of existing buildings.

To address food waste, for instance, we’ve worked with organisations like OzHarvest and Reground, leading the charge in food waste education and environment regeneration through organic waste. OzHarvest is a food-rescue organisation that diverts food from supermarkets, cafés and manufacturers to prevent waste and improve food security in Australia.

Partnering with the City of Casey, OzHarvest successfully delivered the Use it Up campaign with 130 households, demonstrating a reduction in food waste of over 40 per cent. Reground is a Melbourne-based social enterprise that collects coffee grounds from over 300 businesses around Melbourne and Geelong and has expanded to the City of Casey thanks to the Living Lab.

Reground collected coffee grounds from eight cafes in Casey, donating them to community gardens and residents to use as fertiliser. The café at our office, Bunjil Place, participated in the program and in two months managed to repurpose 720kg of ground coffee and chaff into valuable compost and soil, preventing 1368kg of greenhouse gas emissions.

Other projects include working with Evitat, FTD Circular, Rosella Street and Activ Group, to help households reduce waste and encourage circular practices in local construction. Evitat helps home-owners to make sustainable choices when renovating their homes. Its project involves working with renovators and providing guides for residents in the City of Casey.

The collaboration with this organisation resulted in increased awareness and support for more energy-efficient homes among 150 local households, FTD Circular aims to reuse and recycle furnishings and fittings from a closing down commercial facility to new facilities, schools, businesses and community centres. The organisation supported City Presentation in the renovation of local community hubs to enhance the rate of retiring assets reused, donated, repaired or recycled through a digital assets registration platform.

Over 58 per cent of registered assets were diverted from landfill in our most successful renovation. Rosella Street has created a hub on their website to connect residents and businesses in the City of Casey to resell goods and materials instead of sending them to landfill.

During the collaboration with City of Casey they set up a marketplace where 41 community members and local businesses started to list items for renting, sharing, and selling. Proceeds from the sales go towards planting trees in the Northern Territory for Indigenous communities.

Activ Group is a company specialised in reverse logistics, having established collection and diversion of e-waste and other harmful waste over the past 20 years. Their collaboration with Council and local developer Brown Property Group led to the establishment of a circular economy hub for construction and demolition waste in a local construction site, currently testing diversion of construction waste from landfill.

The living lab approach

With these diverse projects nearing the end of their trial stages, we’ve gleaned invaluable insights into scaling up and perpetuating successful circular economy initiatives. Each project has contributed practical results, from tangible waste reduction, to recommendations for the implementation of council policies, fueling behavioural changes within the community and local businesses.

The Living Lab approach underlines the potential of partnerships in addressing complex environmental and societal challenges. By fostering active engagement with citizens, businesses, schools, and community groups, we’ve fine-tuned solutions to align with the unique needs of our community.

The collaboration with academia, the private sector, and grassroots organisations has not only enriched local government practices but also built a more resilient, sustainable, and engaged community. The lessons learned from Casey’s Living Lab initiative can provide a roadmap for other councils seeking to navigate the path to a circular economy and a more sustainable future.

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