The Brisbane Innovate Speech

Towards a zero waste, circular economy


Queensland's Chief Entrepreneur, Leanne Kemp gave this address at Brisbane City Council's Brisbane Innovate event on November 7, 2018. Brisbane Innovate is Council’s annual open innovation event, bringing together private industry, academia, local startups and the community to generate ideas to solve citywide challenges. The focus for the 2018 challenges included unlocking the value of waste, a subject Leanne is passionate about.

There is an URGENT need for a Circular Economy   

For a long time, our economy has been ‘linear'. This means raw materials are extracted from the earth, used to make a product, and what remains after its use is thrown away (e.g packaging). We believe that creating a circular economy calls for a profound transformation in the way we work and produce. The way we design, teach, invest and buy. That’s why we are here today to strive to connect our community in cross-sectoral collaboration.

Now, to emphasise the size of this global challenge, let’s review the numbers at our doorstep:

  • We extract over 84 billion tonnes of materials per year to meet the functional needs of society. Yet, only 9% of these materials are recycled back into our economies
  • Estimates suggest that by 2050, if current trends continue, there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean
  • Disease caused by pollution are responsible for more than 9 million premature deaths in 2015 - 16% of deaths worldwide or 3 x times more deaths than from AIDS, TB, and Malaria combined

In a circular economy there is no waste and at worst attempt – there is less. Let me be clear that Recycling is NOT circular, however recycling is a single step toward a larger systemic change.

Products need to be designed better (with disassembly and re-use in mind) and materials need to be sourced as the enabler for (extension of life or reuse in) both closed loop and extended loop applications

If a new raw material is needed, we should be designing a liveable planet, a way to deconstruct products for re-purposing - without placing an unacceptable burden on the environment and without exhausting natural resources.  The world has an urgent need for a Circular Economy… and the world is moving towards Circularity

For those of you, who didn't meet me through the earlier introduction with Cat… My name is Leanne Kemp, CEO and Founder of Everledger, your Chief Entrepreneur for Queensland and a representative of the World Economic Forum.

I'm the creator of a company which imagined a world where provenance matters. The ability to bring transparency to opaque supply chains, to track and trace some of the most important gems, metals and minerals on our planet.

Using a combination of the very best in emerging technologies, blockchain, smart contracts, machine vision, artificial intelligence. We began in the heart of London in 2015, with a vision to track diamonds from the source of the mine to the retailer. For the consumer to have the full story of the diamond so they could take a full consciousness of mind approach to their purchase decision. And, we have achieved a lot in a short period of time. Everledger today has over 2M diamonds on chain, five operational centres, 75 staff and has connected the major participants on the diamond supply chains. The application is in the hand of retailers across mainland China, USA, UK and Australia and it is in the minds of consumers in just three short years. But we did not want to stop there, we wanted to imagine a world where our supply chain could reinvent the current supply chain of industry, where electronics manufactures with waste could be the supplier of the future for jewellery, an industry where it could show the truth of its integrity in

  • E-Waste: Dell is taking the e-waste gold from Salvation Army stores and partnering with a jewellery company to make jewellery entirely from E-Waste. Think about Apple and other electronics waste becoming the biggest source of jewellery precious metals. 
  • 2020 Olympics: only two years away now, where Medals for the Podium Winners are being made fully from e-waste; with a call to arms from Japan, to other countries and manufacturers globally. The response was overwhelming, and forms as a clear indication; countries; industry and athletes to consumers all wanting to raise awareness and show the possibility of achieving a Circular Reality.

And beyond the diamond, jewellery and precious metals industry, we see other governments such as The Netherlands making bold commitments to be a circular economy by 2050.  With programs stretching across:

  • Biomass and Food, 
  • Plastics, 
  • Construction, 
  • Consumer Goods and 
  • Manufacturing

Looking at Biomass and Food, we learn that dead, bio-degradeable plant material and animal fats are an essential raw material in the Circular Economy. It is used for food and animal feed and also for making all kinds of other products, like textiles, paper, chemicals and energy. It is also crucial for reducing our CO2 emission and dependence on fossil fuels.

  • Coffee: Who would have thought coffee grounds could be circular? In fact, they are an ideal, fertile substrate for growing oyster mushrooms in just six weeks. The entire process is sustainable!
  • Plastic: Global use of plastic has increased 20-fold over the past 50 years. And it is expected to double again in the next 20 years. Worldwide, 299 million tons of plastics are produced every year, 20% of them in Europe. 
  • Interface is one of the world’s largest carpet manufacturers and is a leader in producing sustainable carpets, pioneers in development of bio-based and recycled materials. One of its current projects are carpets made from discarded fishing nets. 

We; in Queensland and across Australia, can and will be able to move towards a circular economy and have started with a few key areas on the recycling and waste reduction with several programs: 

  • The War on Waste has highlighted groups like Planet Ark to help increase e-waste recycling in AUS, reducing plastic single use items, and reducing food waste at home.
  • Cash for Cans/Containers implants the concept of value for what we normally think is waste

We; in Queensland can use technology to engage with local, regional, national and global movements towards the goal of a full Circular Economy. It is inspiring to see examples first hand in many places around the world. I see businesses, public authorities and institutions working to create an economy that revolves around reuse. An economy without waste – an enormous yet crucial transition! Our population is set to reach 10Billion people by 2050, people are becoming more prosperous and this is causing a massive growth demand for raw materials. In the past 100 years, we have been using 37 times more materials and 27 times more minerals. With these numbers still rising! We are really going to have to do things differently if we want to avoid burdening the next generations that follow with irreversible problems.

The challenge and opportunity is immense, and it is our time to join and lead this work.   

The Circular Economy provides a 4.5 trillion USD opportunity by 2030 through avoiding waste, making businesses more efficient and creating new employment opportunities

  • Electronics goals: $55Billion of total value in recoverable materials from e-waste is not captured; 44.7 million metric tonnes of e-wastes is generated globally each year
  • Plastics: 95% of global packaging material value is lost after first use; by 2050 there will be more plastics than fish in the ocean
  • Food and Bio-economy: The bio-economy represent 17% of out world’s total GDP; Globally around a third of food produced is lost or wasted, while food demand surges. Reducing or reusing just one fourth of the current amount of food waste can feed 870 million hungry people in the world

My aim is for everyone in this room is to use technology to enable this work to happen in Queensland. Everyone here in this room can begin in Brisbane then stretch to other geographies, connecting with more companies and more consumers!

We did it; Everledger is engaged with the World Economic Forum, where we are working towards 2020 goals on Circular Economy pilots. These pilots require governments adopting new policies and national roadmaps, innovators developing new technologies, and businesses making commitments to transform their business models.

Showcasing the global work underway, Everledger partners and applies our technology to enable multiple experiments: 

  • The African Circular Economy Alliance clearly emphasises that Circular Economy can provide a measured economic opportunity, enhancing jobs while avoiding the problems experienced in other regions as a result of wide-scale industrialisation, while reducing dependence on unstable commodity markets:
  1.  A project called Closing the Loop is enabling a re-use market to connect to Circular Economy by offering phone makers and carriers the opportunity to offset their new phone production. 
  2. Closing the Loop’s challenge of 1:1 offset can build a value-add economy in emerging technologies for what would have been waste and pollution challenges. 
  3. The platform requires multiple collection locations and tracking material to be able to justify that these phones are indeed end-of-life and extract the value of these materials to other market and refiner.
  4. Everledger digitalises documents for government compliance programs where we hope to use this learning and ease the burden of regulatory reporting. Ideally work with World Economic Forum governments partnerships to build the regulatory environment and make this more effective.
  • By 2025, the battery market will reach $100 billion, primarily driven by the growing global stock of electric vehicles:
  1. Yet, no scaled systems are in place to enable re-use and recycling of over 11 million tons of the spent lithium-ion batteries forecasted to be discarded by 2030.
  2. Sourcing strategies are now including not only mining more material, but recognising Urban Mining potential and a broader eco-system for all the users of lithium ion batteries is necessary.
  3. Innovation potential remains unexploited along the value chain, holding back greater supply chain transparency, business model and technological innovation.
  4. By 2019 there is a plan to publish a circular economy strategy and launch pilots to develop an ecosystem connecting platforms for the collection and effective re-sale, re-use, re-purpose of:
    • Electric vehicle batteries and battery storage units through verified channels
    • Portable electronics such as phones and hand held devices like hand drills


As more and more products are being made, especially in sectors like the electronics, machining and car industries. This also means that more and more raw materials are being used.

The extraction and processing of raw materials create problems for the environment, climate and sustainability. Through shared vision, technological enablement and tracking, and your involvement, we can truly anchor to key UN Sustainable Development goals on Energy Use Reduction, Poverty Alleviation, and Reducing Water Use.  

As a collective mind, we want to make the business community more aware of the vulnerability of our natural resources and enable the opportunity of new ways to find and include urban mined resources. Could we achieve a zero-waste mining environment, here, in Queensland? Show our sister states it’s possible, and perhaps our Queensland expertise could be called upon to solve for similar problems in global markets.

To Reuse and Repurpose is a must! AND it will become part of our societal and business processes, sooner rather than later.

We are here today because we believe in Brisbane, and because innovation is the oxygen that flows within our blood, it’s in the DNA of our communities and in the mindfulness of our purpose.

I’m thrilled to be part of this conversation.

Please reach out.

Let’s engage and bring our collective capabilities together for this work.

You, I and all of us together will make this possible.