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The circular economy startup saving SMEs thousands in landfill costs

Matthew Elmas /

circular economy

ASPIRE chief executive Cameron McKenzie. Source: Supplied.

An Aussie startup helping small businesses with lowering their waste costs is calling on Australian governments to support efforts to get firms involved in the circular economy.

ASPIRE is an online marketplace which matches businesses with remanufacturers, purchasers and recyclers of waste materials. The idea is to provide businesses with a cheaper and more sustainable option than landfill for their waste.

Originally developed in 2015 by researchers from CSIRO, the startup this week transitioned out of its Data61 innovation group and became its own independent company, led by chief executive Cameron McKenzie.

While ASPIRE works with businesses, local governments are actually its customers, meaning businesses based in areas where councils have paid for the service can use it free of charge.

Already operational across 16 council jurisdictions across the country, about 300 businesses have already used the platform to circulate everything from batteries, organics and timber pallets to new homes.

McKenzie tells SmartCompany the venture has so far saved companies an estimated $200,000 in costs associated with waste removal, while also saving 45,000 tonnes of rubbish from landfill.

“Businesses are increasingly seeing their cost of doing business go up and up ⁠— the cost of landfill has tripled,” McKenzie says.

“Many also don’t have sustainable business practices.”

ASPIRE uses digital tools to “intelligently match” businesses with others who could reuse their waste. Dubbed a “social business network” it actively identifies and suggests opportunities for businesses to collaborate with each other.

Every year 67 million tonnes of waste is generated in Australia, and as countries across the world introduce new waste import restrictions, the cost of disposing of rubbish has skyrocketed.

As much as 80% of Australia’s waste bill is generated through commercial activities, including construction and demolition, meaning small-to-medium businesses are a vital part of any effort to reduce local landfill.

A 2018 study looking at Australia’s waste policy predicted a 5% improvement in the “efficient use of materials” across the economy could increase economic output by up to $24 billion each year.

Swinburne’s startup accelerator program is already supporting ASPIRE alongside CSIRO’s ON accelerator program, but McKenzie says he’d like to see government at the local, state and federal levels do more to support sustainable waste practices.

“We need behavioural change. You really need to help these businesses with their bottom lines and sustainability,” McKenzie says.

ASPIRE’s next focus will be pitching to state governments, with the hope support at this level will turbocharge its efforts to scale the platform, enabling more companies to take advantage of the circular economy.

But support from Prime Minister Scott Morrison remains McKenzie’s big goal.

“If we got federal support, that would be huge,” he says.

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Matthew Elmas

Matthew is the news editor at SmartCompany. You can contact him at [email protected].