In February 2019, Container Exchange (COEX), the not-for-profit organisation that established and manages Containers for Change in Queensland, joined 26 organisations from a diverse range of industries to participate in Australia’s first Circular Economy Lab. This lab was created as part of an initiative of the Queensland Government, to conceptualise and then launch innovative projects that would showcase the opportunities in a circular economy.

As part of the Lab experience, COEX partnered with leading plastic waste processor Astron Sustainability, global minerals processor Rio Tinto, Australia’s second largest aluminium smelter Boyne Smelters, product commercialisation experts Evolve Group, and digital provenance enterprise Everledger. Together, they sought to make a change for the better, developing a pilot project – United for Change.

Their bold vision, to create a true circular economy in which 100% of containers sold are collected and then recycled, re-birthed or reused in Queensland. Using the Containers for Change scheme as a collection solution, the project explored the benefits in local recovery, recycling and remanufacturing of aluminium and polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic drink containers collected through the Containers for Change scheme.

Benefits of this pilot were shown to be widespread, affecting all parts of Queensland life from the economy to the environment; including increased local employment and, when compared to processing new materials, significant reductions in both energy requirements and carbon dioxide emissions.

Lab teams presented their pilots in a pitch style environment vying for a share of a $100,000 prize pool provided by the Department of Environment and Science. United for Change received $20,000 and they put it to good use; developing a Track and Trace trial focussed on PET collected through the Containers for Change scheme.