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Source: University of Waikato

Engineering Professor Kim Pickering has been awarded $10.9m 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, Māori and European.

The five-year Āmiomio Aotearoa – a circular economy for the wellbeing of New Zealand programme aims to deliver a transformative multidisciplinary platform that integrates the many essential bodies of knowledge, research communities, novel insights and practical actions that can contribute to circular economy success in New Zealand. To achieve this, Professor Pickering has brought together a team of investigators with expertise in materials science, engineering/design, energy, economics, Kaupapa Māori, business, law and regulation, social science and public policy. This includes Associate Professor Tom Roa and Professors Trevor Drage, Barry Barton, Les Oxley and Associate Professor Eva Collins.

But what is a circular economy? 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, whilst 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.

Recognised with a Fellowship from Engineering New Zealand, Professor Pickering is no stranger to accolades. In 2017 she became the first woman to win the Scott Medal from the Royal Society of New Zealand for her work developing sustainable composite materials out of fibres such as hemp, wood or flax. 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 says. “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 by business and other key societal factors 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 says the MBIE-funded research programme 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 Mātauranga Māori and science, this novel project will bring together a cross-section of disciplines, working in partnership with Māori and in close collaboration with Government, industry/business and the wider community,” she says.

Professor Pickering says she’s very proud of her team securing $10.9m of Endeavour funding. “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,” she says. “This programme feeds into our commitment to providing solutions to the problems and challenges that exist in our environment and the economy.”

The Āmiomio Aotearoa programme will get underway in October 2020, and the team includes:

Lead, Professor Kim Pickering, University of Waikato

Professor Trevor Drage, University of Waikato

Professor Les Oxley, University of Waikato  

Associate Professor Tom Roa, University of Waikato

Associate Professor Sandy Morrison, University of Waikato

Dr Robert Joseph, University of Waikato

Professor Barry Barton, University of Waikato  

Associate Professor Eva Collins, University of Waikato

Professor Conan Fee, University of Waikato

Associate Professor Sandra Morrison, University of Waikato

Dr Dawn Smith, Scion

Professor Richard Haverkamp, Massey University

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