Circular Economy: Understanding the relationship between Australia and its young citizens

Circular Economy: Understanding the relationship between Australia and its young citizens

Ilustrasi Oleh: Marsha

Written by:

Mehdi A. Ahmadi

Deakin University

CWTS UGM-ACICIS Intern (January – February 2022)

“Waste reduction to value creation” – the essence of circular economy simply put by Karen Delchet (2020). Current economic model is best described as a linear model where the extraction of raw material is put at the beginning, followed by the production, distribution, then overconsumption which leads to waste. The assumption of the model is that there is an infinite number of resources, thus profit maximization and over production become its main focus. However, as the World Economic Forum (2018) highlights, the fast growth of cities is paramount and inevitable: the ratio of population increases 40% between 1900 and 2015, estimated to 66% in 2050, and affects the increase of natural resources usage 12 times. This increase directly correlates to over consumption of resources, products, constriction of the supply chain and heightened pollution. Due to the finite number of resources available for mankind, it is not practical, sustainable, and economical to use resources and turn them to waste as the world has been doing so with the current linear model of economy. An alternative to these issues can be the Circular Economy model (CE), in which the resources are used to exhaustion, recycled, and reused again with minimal wastage. The shift from linear model to the circular model requires alteration to the current policies and supply chain, way of business and ultimately a shift in the collective approach to our ways of handling resources available to us. This implementation of CE can be challenging for both developing and developed nations. In particularly developed nations where the linear model of economy is so ingrained within the economy, any alteration can prove to be met with resistance. However, there is a certain group of people within a developed nation which has proven to be agents of change – the youth. This article will focus on Australia and its young citizens, their relationship with understanding of the circular economy, and their positions on the subject matter.

According to the article published by Melles (2021), it was left to individual states and other organizations to spell out the details of a circular economy future due to the “absence of strong federal ambition”. Thus, the inability to unite for a main goal resulted in an imperceptive and inadequate response to the transition to CE and implementation of policies across the nation. In addition, it was found that the quality of the “consultations, policy and potential for reform and transition was dependent on the political regime and leadership at the level across the federal and state government”. This also directly correlated to the quality and ability of local government’s actions in dealing with environmental issues and the transition to CE.

However, due to the persistence of the climate change issue and it being an eminent threat to Australia and its coastal cities, there had been a growing support and funding initiatives by the federal and states which had enabled the emergence of national hubs, consultancies, and digital platforms such as ASPIRE online marketplace. In addition, with collaboration of university sector and major retailers and other industries, the government has been able to develop hubs to identify industry specific issues and implement CE strategies. These initiatives indicate that Australia’s CE implementation process is influenced by economic and political factors. These factors range from disruption of the status quo, redistribution of wealth & resources, and political power balance.

Historically, it was understood that youth’s understanding of the circular economy was minimal and only to an extent of consumer behavior. However, recent studies found that youth groups and citizens are viewed as agents of change, first adopters of new reforms, policies, and actions. Youth groups, alongside local/regional governments and community organizations, were also considered more optimistic, acceptable of reform, and acted as agents of change despite having financial, regulatory, or political limitations. As Wallis & Loy (2021) highlights, young people are highly likely to be pro climate change, environmental sustainability and aware of their consumption than other groups of citizens. This behavior is clearly shown by youth mobilization and rallies that began in Melbourne, Sydney, Canberra, and Hobart outside state parliaments building and town halls. In the protests, students and young people have all gathered, skipping school or university, and joining in solidarity to voice their support for more eco-friendly policies and forcing the government to take action.

Moreover, the Fridays for Future (FFF) movement and their ever-increasing intensity, power, and support, has enabled young people to be established as a political force and agents of CE. FFF is a youth-led and organized global strike movement which was started in 2018 after Greta Thunberg’s demand for action. This movement was then morphed into School strike 4 Climate (SS4C) in Australia which follows the principle of FFF. The efficiency and effectiveness of SS4C is yet to be determined due to movement being in its infancy. In addition to such movements, Australia has a eco-friendly focused political party called the Greens Party which is ranked third in the political influence in the government. The Greens Party’s growing supporters are youth groups and young adults ranging from 18 to 34. Furthermore, Dias (2019) highlights that youth may hold some decisive power when casting their vote in some marginal areas during an election. For example, young voters hold power in Immigration minister Peter Dutton’s Queensland seat of Dickson. This enables youth group’s needs to be fulfilled by the political parties in order to gain voters thus giving youth political influence.

Despite the marginal shift of youths position as political actor, Mayes & Hartup (2022) stated that majority of times, youth voice, actions and concerns are still characterized as “ignorant zealots, anxious pawns, rebellious truants, and extraordinary heroes” by media. The research shows that as long as youth are classified and viewed in these terms, their political power is diminished and their actions are merely reduced to emotions and “just a phase”. Counter to such representation, youth have utilized social media platforms to represent a polished and true self-image of themselves. Mimi Elashiry, an Egyptian-Australian who has large followers and become a self-made Instagram star, is an environmental advocate that has been named Adidas Australia's ambassador. She uses the social media platform Instagram to voice her concerns of climate change and promote the principles of circular economy as well as eco-friendly lifestyle. She becomes one of The Oxygen Project’s “Top 10 Favorite Eco-Warriors in Australia”, representing fellow Australian youths in breaking down the stigma through a contemporary approach. Thus, the growing influence of youth are evident within the current society and political arena.

In conclusion, the state and youth are both actors that coexist within the same society. Each has their own power: states have the power to bring changes through reform, policy, or fundings while youth have limited resources and power of decision making. However, as the research highlights, youth may hold more persuasive power which positions them to be great agents of change within a society. Therefore, the government have begun to see youth as a more politically active force with power of making changes across the nation and industries through their consumption power, voting powers, their digital footprint, and influence.


Tags: op_ed

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