The important link between innovation and community values and beliefs

| January 28, 2016

Wouldn’t it be great living in a sustainable world that does not depend on exploiting raw minerals and piling up mountains of landfill? Veena Sahajwalla, Director of the Centre for Sustainable Materials Research & Technology (SMaRT), explains how it can be done.

Changing community values, mind-sets and behaviours is often touted as a core challenge to bringing about a lasting solution to today’s environmental issues.

We have demonstrated how ‘waste’ can be transformed into key manufacturing materials, such as using our Polymer Injection Technology (PIT) and waste integrated novel (WIN) products, like those used for the built environment. We are producing panels by integrating different types of local waste material to produce sustainable panels which could be used for producing parts for furniture and for building products.

Consequently, through this research into green manufacturing, creating these high-value materials from waste, we can add greater strength to the belief that we can live in a sustainable world that does not depend on the traditional mining of raw minerals and piling up of mountains of landfill. Furthermore, we can offer substantial, quantitative proof to the community that it is possible and economically feasible to take action on the environmental issues of our day – we can do something about them, and we are.

WIN products also include transforming waste plastics into various carbon products such as graphene. You can find further reading about this here: Graphene Oxide: the new membrane material

What can we do in Australia? We have our own motivators to act: large distances and a small population – two major reasons to build micro-factories in which locally available waste materials can become resources where transformation into high-value products can occur. We can create WIN products in remote and regional locations in Australia that meet local needs and importantly create local jobs through green manufacturing solutions.

Australia can address climate change challenges through decarbonisation of local industries and create new jobs of the future in which our waste materials are transformed into WIN products, thereby reducing carbon emissions typically produced by conventional industries. Australia can lead the world and share our green technologies with developing regions, creating win-win outcomes for global economy and for our environment

Even more importantly, we can be motivated not solely from the need to negate the legacies of our past industries, but can be driven and inspired by positing a complete paradigm shift to a smart, agile and green manufacturing model. At SMaRT, we envisage a manufacturing industry in Australia, stimulated by the activity of industries working together to ask critical questions, forming and testing hypotheses and reasoning quantitatively. And we are already embarking on this shift through our close collaboration with industry to transform the manufacturing industry into a smarter, greener system.

Through our work at SMaRT the increasing reality is that today, our communities can value items they once believe to be waste, and they can believe in a sustainable future for how we manufacture the products we use everyday. You can read more about our work at SMaRT@UNSW.

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Veena Sahajwalla

Scientia Professor Veena Sahajwalla FTSE FIEAust directs the Centre for Sustainable Materials Research and Technology (SMaRT) at UNSW Australia; delivering scientific and engineering advances in sustainability of materials and associated processes in collaboration with industry.