From animals to humans: understanding Ebola virus

An artificially coloured electron microscope image of Ebola virus .

Ebola – an artificially coloured electron microscope image of the virus.

By Gary Crameri and John Lowenthal

There is growing global concern as the West African country of Guinea battles to contain a deadly outbreak of Ebola virus, yet another disease of animal origin, which is threatening the lives of their people.

Previous outbreaks of the virus have been localised in Africa, but there are growing concerns that it could spread further with cases now being diagnosed in the neighbouring countries of Sierra Leone and Liberia. So what exactly is known about this disease?

Ebola virus 101

Ebola virus, also known as Ebola hemorrhagic fever, is a highly infectious and contagious illness with a fatality rate in humans of up to 90 per cent.

One of the most lethal infectious diseases known, it was first discovered in 1976 in two simultaneous outbreaks – one in Nzara, Sudan and the other near the Ebola River in Zaire – now the Democratic Republic of Congo. Since then over 1600 deaths have been recorded.

The Ebola virus is feared for its rapid and aggressive nature. When the virus gains access to the human body, it starts attacking the vascular system and the walls of the blood vessels. This prevents blood from clotting causing internal or external bleeding.

Diagnosing Ebola in its early stage is difficult. Its early flu-like symptoms such as headache and fever are not specific to Ebola virus infection and are seen often in patients with more commonly occurring diseases in the region like malaria and cholera.

Where does it come from?

Ebola virus is a zoonotic disease, meaning it passes from animals to people. As with the respiratory diseases SARS and MERS and the Hendra virus, bats have been identified as the reservoir host. Four of the five subtypes of Ebola virus occur in an animal host which is native to Africa.

There is good evidence that other mammals like gorillas, chimpanzees and antelopes are probably the transmission host to humans but the mechanism of their infection from the fruit bats is not certain.

Ebola can then spread to humans through close contact with the blood, secretions, organs or other bodily fluids of infected animals or through people consuming an infected animal.

Once a person is infected, the virus can only be spread to other people by very close contact, including direct exposure with bodily fluids or through exposure to objects that have been contaminated with blood or infected secretions. Infected individuals can be infectious for weeks after recovery from the acute illness.

There is no vaccine or known cure for Ebola virus infection. As with many emerging infectious diseases, treatment is limited to pain management and supportive therapies to counter symptoms like dehydration and lack of oxygen. Public awareness and infection control measures are vital to controlling the spread of disease.

Scientists working on zoonotic agents wearing biosafety suits

Scientists working on zoonotic agents require the highest level of biosafety

The next big virus?

A number of emerging infectious diseases are causing issues on a global scale. We’ve also seen outbreaks over the past few months of Hendra virus, MERS and two avian influenza viruses, H7N9 and H5N1.

Recent growth and geographic expansion of human populations and the intensification of agriculture has resulted in a greater risk of infectious diseases being transmitted to people from wildlife and domesticated animals. Moreover, increased global travel means there is a greater likelihood that infectious agents, particularly airborne pathogens, can rapidly spread among the human population. Together, these factors have increased the risk of pandemics – it’s not so much a matter of if, but when.

The World Health Organization has warned that the source of the next human pandemic is likely to be zoonotic and that wildlife is a prime culprit.

While the current list of known emerging infectious diseases is a major concern, it’s the unknown viruses, with a potential for efficient human-to-human transmission that pose the biggest threat.

Fortunately Australia has a robust system to deal with an emergency disease outbreak, including our very own Australian Animal Health Laboratory, a globally recognised biosecure zoonosis laboratory, and scientific and medical experts linked via a national veterinary and public health laboratory network.


We’re running out of wireless spectrum… so what can we do?

Guy with mobile

Sorry mate, but unless the wireless spectrum has room for it, internet on your iPhone’s going to be pretty slow. Image: Flickr / aye_shamus

By Ian Oppermann, Digital Productivity & Services Director

While discussions around closing oil refineries in Australia bring talk of future economic security, our economic future also depends on a less visible, but finite resource.

We can now foreshadow a time of “peak data”, when the radio spectrum is so crowded, we will reach a limit on how much data can be used for wireless services – at least in urban environments. Today we released a report World Without Wires on the threat of “peak data” and what that could mean for the way we connect and access essential services in the future.

The report points out that wireless communication relies on the availability of radiofrequency spectrum, inherently a finite resource.

In a recent article in The Conversation, I explained how we in Australia expect more and better digital services to be delivered to our smart devices anytime, anywhere and how this burgeoning data demand is putting stress on the networks that deliver those services wirelessly.

Man with mobile

Image: Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com

Future increases in demand, both in terms of speed and volume, for wireless data and services over coming decades will severely test technologies and infrastructure.

Based on our current body of research and the trajectories of technological innovation across the world, we expect wireless technology to underpin a massive range of socio-economic developments that will significantly impact the modern world.

We envision a future in which consumers and other stakeholders will expect high-speed wireless connectivity to enable a range of future applications and social developments.

This will include:

  • internet-based personalised streaming services to replace TV and phones
  • minute-by-minute updates from widespread sensing technologies embedded in our environment
  • driverless cars and “virtual concierges” made possible by wireless location services
  • a whole new world of government and business teleservices being delivered to us via private digital networks and beyond.

A worldwide phenomenon

In many global cities, including in Australia, we’re rapidly approaching the point of “peak data”, where user demand for wireless internet, telephony and other services can no longer be fully accommodated by the available radiofrequency spectrum.

Currently bands of frequencies (measured in megahertz: MHz) are allocated for a wide range of uses such as TV/radio broadcast, emergency services and mobile phone communications.

How frequency modulation works.

While we continue researching new ways to make spectrum use more efficient, and future allocation of spectrum blocks may change over time, the fundamental situation is that spectrum is an increasingly rare resource.

Our estimates are that spectrum demand will almost triple by 2020, implying that existing infrastructure will need to rapidly expand available capacity to meet this demand.

With more and more essential services delivered digitally and on mobile devices, finding a global solution to “peak data” will become ever more important. The solution could start here.

Home-grown solutions

Australia is strongly positioned to be leader in the wireless world. We have a small population but our research and development community has consistently punched above its weight in wireless innovation. We’ve drawn on our traditional expertise in radioastronomy as well as the fields where technology is applied, such as agriculture, services and mining.

Since CSIRO’s development of high-speed wireless local area network (WLAN) in the early 1990s, our wireless labs have continued to push the boundaries in areas such as wireless positioning and antenna design, complementing equally exciting developments emerging from Australia’s top universities and research institutions.

This appetite for technological change and innovation is not limited to the labs. Australians, as a whole, are early technology adopters. There are more mobile phones today in Australia than there are Australians, and, according to the OECD’s latest figures, Australia now has more wireless broadband subscriptions per capita than any other country in the world.

In June 2013, around 7.5 million Australians were using the internet via their mobile phone – a staggering 510% more than did just five years ago.

Bench of people using mobile devices

We’re demanding more and more data to mobile devices.

To continue on this trajectory, however, wireless communications must become:

  1. scalable, to overcome the threat of spectrum crunch posed by breakneck adoption and growth in demand
  2. ubiquitous, to ensure that access to wireless-enhanced digital services that improve – and sometimes save – lives is available to all regardless of geography or demography.

Australia is in a prime position to address these challenges and develop world-leading applications for ubiquitous wireless connectivity. The pedigree of our wireless laboratories and researchers in all parts of the country is second to none.

To maintain momentum, though, Australia’s scientists and researchers must partner with industry leaders – not just in telecommunications, but health, mining and any other sector which can apply wireless connectivity to improve its performance and reliability.

They must also ensure they develop technologies which directly boost the capabilities and applications of personal mobile devices, which increasingly constitute the single most accessible and relevant digital platform for everyday people.

Australia’s geography, our scattered population, and the nature of some of our major industries provide challenges which are uniquely suited for harnessing ubiquitous wireless connectivity.

Any new technology which can take root here, and bring long-term benefit for both economies and people, is likely to flourish the world over.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.


Saving daylight

Bird on branch

Don’t be a confused cuckoo. Turn back your clocks this weekend. Image: Flickr / Sean MCann

This coming Sunday when the clocks are wound back one hour, the curtains will stop fading faster, birds and cows will no longer be confused by the ‘extra’ sunshine and life will return to its natural rhythm.

For those living in South Australia, NSW, Tasmania, Victoria and the ACT, Daylight Saving comes to an end this week.

Daylight Saving has caused much debate since it was first conceived by Benjamin Franklin in 1784.

Not that “adjusting” time to suit our needs was new then.  Ancient civilizations adjusted daily schedules to the sun – often dividing daylight into 12 hours regardless of day length, so that each daylight hour was longer during summer.

Roman water clocks had different scales for different months of the year. In Rome the third hour after sunrise started just after 9am and lasted 44 minutes at the winter solstice, but at the summer solstice it started just before 7am and lasted 75 minutes.

George Vernon Hudson

The granddaddy of Daylight Saving, Mr George Vernon Hudson

Modern Daylight Saving never really got off the ground until 1895 when an entomologist from New Zealand, George Vernon Hudson, wrote a paper that proposed a two-hour shift forward in October and a two-hour shift back in March. He followed up his proposal with an article in 1898, and although there was interest in the idea, it was never followed through.

Some places in Argentina, Iceland, Russia, Uzbekistan and Belarus have introduced permanent Daylight Saving and the United Kingdom stayed on it from 1968 to 1971.

There are also apparently some health issues related to Daylight Saving.

People who are already vulnerable to heart disease may be at greater risk right after sudden time changes.

Recently a study was released in the US which showed that people who were already vulnerable to heart disease may be at greater risk right after sudden time changes.

According to the study, turning clocks forward an hour for Daylight Saving time was followed by a spike in heart attacks on the Monday following. Monday is traditionally the day when most heart attacks occur  – it is suggested that the stress of returning to work may be a cause. There was a 25 per cent jump in the number of heart attacks occurring the Monday after the spring time change – or a total of eight additional heart attacks. But when clocks fall back and people gain an hour of sleep, there was a drop (21 per cent) in heart attacks on the Tuesday.

So, it seems the odds are increased that I will live a bit longer – at least until Daylight Saving comes back.

While it seems that every article about Daylight Saving has to have the curtain fading gag, is there ‘extra’ sunshine?

In the 1950s scientists in our Division of Physics were using a flare-patrol telescope to observe disturbances in the Sun’s chromosphere. It showed the appearance and growth of several flares and surges. Some of these disturbances are observed against the disk of the Sun. Those too faint for this are studied at the limb, or edge, of the Sun.

Aurora over the frozen forests of Sweden

Aurora over the frozen forests of Sweden. Image: RainbowJoe

Coronal mass ejections on the Sun release huge amounts of matter and electromagnetic radiation which can cause particularly strong aurorae (Northern and Southern Lights), disrupt radio transmissions and cause damage to satellites and electrical transmission line facilities.

Coronal mass ejections reach velocities between 20km/s to 3200km/s with an average speed of 489km/s. They take between one and five days to reach Earth.

So is that extra sunshine?


Shrine of the times

Picture this. It’s a beautiful autumn day in Melbourne. You’re about to embark on a walking tour to discover some of the city’s finest architecture. My name is Carrie and I’ll be your tour guide.

We begin at one of the city’s more stately buildings – the Shrine of Remembrance. This grand temple-like structure was built back in 1926 and is located right next to the Botanic Gardens. It’s a focus for the city’s ANZAC Day ceremonies each year and in this ANZAC Centenary commemorating the start of WW1.

3D map of The Shrine of Remembrance, Melbourne

3D map of The Shrine of Remembrance, Melbourne

This month our scientists at CSIRO brought high tech to history by mapping the Shrine using a 3D laser scanner, preserving it digitally with a tool called Zebedee.

As you can see, it’s very timely. Major renovations at the Shrine are underway to get ready for commemorations of the Gallipoli landing’s 100th anniversary in 2015. It’s part of the $45M ‘Galleries of Remembrance’ project.

The Shrine joins a select group of heritage sites mapped in 3D by the Zebedee scanner, along with Brisbane’s Fort Lytton, and even the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

Now I personally get quite excited about architectural drawings, but these 3D maps add detailed information for building managers and heritage experts by measuring the actual built spaces. Zebedee technology offers a new way for recording some of our priceless treasures.

Let me show you one of the interior images of the Shrine. These amazing ‘point clouds’ are created by a handheld laser scanner bouncing on a spring as the user walks through corridors, up stairs and round about. As long as it takes to walk through the building is about how long it takes to make the map. You can watch it online afterwards.

Aerial section view from 3D map of the Shrine's undercroft showing columns

Aerial section view from 3D map of the Shrine’s undercroft showing columns

Despite their almost X-ray look, Zebedee can’t see through walls as the laser bounces off solid surfaces. But when you put all the data in one place you get a sliceable, zoomable, turnable map with architectural details like stairs, columns, voids, ceilings all measured to the nearest centimetre. But . . . no roof! That’s because our scientists are developing a flying laser scanner that scans rooftops from the air. Secret attics may be secret no longer.

That concludes our tour for today. If you’d like to take home your very own Zebedee souvenir, head to our website.


The economics of adaptation: protecting people, prosperity and environment in a warming world

By Dr Paul E Hardisty

Paul Hardisty

Dr Paul Hardisty

For a long time, people were hesitant to discuss adapting to climate change. Some called it defeatist, others worried it would be used as an excuse to delay action on emissions reduction. That was a long time ago. The science of climate adaptation – developing tools, systems and technologies that improve the ability of communities and businesses to survive and prosper as the climate changes around them – has come a long way.

What emerges from this substantial and growing body of work are four powerful yet simple conclusions:

First: adapting to climate change is about people.

As the world warms, people are exposed to greater levels of risk. The State of the Climate 2014 report, recently released by CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology, shows that climate change is here and is happening now . The risk of bushfires has increased. Communities are more exposed to extreme heat. Over the past several years, extreme flooding in Australia has caused incalculable suffering. Without serious action to reduce emissions, these trends will strengthen. Adaptation means protecting people from the impacts already occurring and that we’ll see in future by changing the way we plan, design, and operate the places we live: keeping cities cooler by retaining and enhancing urban tree canopies and greenspaces; building houses to current fire codes; continuing to improve our ability to predict fire weather and provide early warning so communities can prepare; planning housing development to avoid exposed floodplains and retrofitting existing buildings to ensure survivability. Adaptation saves lives.

Second: adapting to climate change is good business.

During the recent Queensland floods, mines were flooded, rail lines washed out, and power disrupted, resulting in hundreds of millions of dollars in lost production. Studies by Stern, Garnaut, and others estimate that climate change, unchecked, will cause economic losses in the billions. CSIRO estimates that by 2070, the value of buildings in Australia exposed to climate-related events will exceed five trillion dollars. But carefully planned and timed adaptation can reduce the damage and cost impact of climate change on businesses and our economy by up to half, and in some cases more. Many businesses in Australia are already starting to plan resilience into their operations, driving down risk levels. But many have not, and remain significantly exposed. Adaptation, properly done, saves money.

People up to their waste in flood water

The floods in Brisbane, 2011. Image: Glenn Walker

Third: Adaptation is a good deal, but the longer we wait to act, the lower the benefits.

Many of the practical adaptive actions we can do to protect our families, communities and businesses are low cost, and yield significant improvements in resilience. Some adaptation measures, like preserving coastal ecosystems (dunes and mangroves, for instance), protect homes, coastal infrastructure and industry from storm surges and sea-level rise, and cost almost nothing. Building or retrofitting homes to current fire codes costs relatively little, and substantially improves survival rates. Recent CSIRO research shows that protecting buildings from coastal flooding can yield up to $40 in net benefit for each dollar invested. Another study on protecting infrastructure from high winds shows that net benefits of adaptation are large, but drop by half if we wait 20 years to implement. Act early, reap the rewards.

Fourth: There are economic and ecological limits to adaptation.

Adaptation is good news, and compared to the challenge of cutting emissions, much can be achieved quickly and with little fuss. But it is important to recognise that there are limits to what adaptation can do.

There are economic limits. We will exhaust the lowest cost – highest benefit adaptation options first. Dunes and mangroves are great, if you have them, but they can only do so much. As the climatic changes persist and worsen, as is projected, other measures will be needed. Sea walls and tidal barriers can help protect coastal communities from sea-level rise and storms. But they can pose significant engineering challenges, and carry big price tags. In the next few decades, with business-as-usual emissions, the costs of adaptation could start not only to stress the ability of society to pay, but could begin to surpass the cost we would have had to pay to transform our energy systems in the first place.

There are ecological limits, too. While there are things we can do to help reduce the impacts on species and ecosystems, like planning reserves to provide corridors for migration, and transplanting vulnerable species into refuges in new suitable locations, the rates of ecosystem change implied by our current emissions trajectory will leave many creatures behind. Landmark work done by CSIRO predicts that at current emission rates, virtually every native ecosystem in Australia will have been replaced by something else by 2070.

Adaptation makes sense, on a number of levels. Understanding the practical and economic limits of adaptation will help us frame the case for emissions reduction, highlight the risks we face, and show the importance of starting our adaptation journey now.

****

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Working Group II released its Fifth Assessment Report on climate change impacts, adaptation and vulnerability today. In this video Dr Mark Howden discusses how CSIRO is developing strategies to help reduce the impacts of climate change on ecosystems and communities:


What’s our role in the search for missing flight MH370?

Pilot

Image: Department of Defence

By Kirsten Lea

UPDATE 16/04/2014:

CSIRO continues to provide support to AMSA and the Joint Agency Coordination Centre (JACC) in the search for MH370 by way of oceanographic modelling and debris tracking. CSIRO is not involved in the underwater search for the missing black box. Any such media enquiries should be forwarded to the JACC media centre JACCmedia@infrastructure.gov.au 

News across the world has been dominated by the tragic mystery surrounding the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 somewhere in the southern Indian Ocean.

Many people have been asking CSIRO for our take on the situation, the ocean, the technology being used to find the debris of the plane – so we wanted to let you know how our technology is being used and how we’re assisting the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA).

Why are we involved in the search?

CSIRO has a Memorandum of Understanding with AMSA that allows them, during a maritime incident, to call on us for scientific knowledge and technical support.

Incidents include oil spills, search and rescue, shipping accidents and in the case of MH370, modelling and projecting the track of debris spotted by satellites.

What are we doing?

To assist AMSA with the search we have created a task force of oceanographers, led by our own Dr David Griffin and Dr Andreas Schiller, to help with two main tasks:

  1. Back-tracking the items spotted by satellite to a possible common origin (a possible crash site).
  2. Forward-tracking to guide on-water searches. We are helping to locate items seen by satellites several days ago, to direct boats and planes to where the items could have drifted.

To do this, we’re using a number of ocean models that all run routinely in real-time, as part of our existing ocean monitoring and modelling projects and collaborations. We’re focusing this current capability on the southern Indian Ocean.

How does the modelling work?

Our modelling works in two ways. First, if a piece of debris is located our systems can help to ‘hindcast’, or backtrack, to the original location, or the possible crash site. Secondly, if a piece of debris is located by satellite, our systems can help the boats and planes by forecasting, which helps to locate the debris location one or two days later.

These models use data from the Global Ocean Observing System and Australia’s Integrated Marine Observation System (IMOS*). Three satellites (Jason-2, Cryosat-2 and SARAL) are particularly crucial to the work. The satellites are equipped with altimeters, which map ocean-surface topography, or the hills and valleys of the sea surface, with accuracy better than 5-centimetres. We also use data from several additional satellites which measure the temperature of the surface of the ocean as an additional source of information.

Ocean currents run along the slope of the sea surface like wind flows around high and low pressure systems in the atmosphere.

*IMOS is a national array of observing equipment (satellites, floats, moorings, radars, robotic gliders, etc) that monitor the open oceans and coastal marine environment around Australia.  We are one of ten national research institutions and universities that delivers the IMOS ocean portal, allowing anyone to view and download the latest data on our oceans.

How to read ocean models

A map of ocean conditions

When we create a map of ocean conditions, like the one above displaying conditions on 24 March 2014, we can see the contours (the white lines in the diagram) of the ocean, or the sea level, which helps us to predict where items at the surface, for example debris, are drifting. The black arrow heads show the current direction and strength (bigger arrows mean the water is flowing faster) and eddies (swirling in the ocean) and the different colours shows the sea surface temperature (blue/green being colder, orange/yellow being warmer).

The map above is also giving us information from the Global Drifter Program (a network of satellite-tracked surface drifting buoys); you might be able to see the little magenta arrow heads showing us the buoy location and direction.

For more information on our ocean modelling and forecasting, see BLUElink, a collaboration between CSIRO’s Wealth from Oceans Flagship, the Bureau of Meteorology and the Royal Australian Navy.

The challenge we face

The ocean is vast and conditions are continuously changing. This area is known for strong winds, large waves and turbulent eddies. Debris can potentially travel up to 50 kilometres a day. We are tracking eddies in the Indian Ocean, around the area of the search, which are about 100 kilometres wide.  The water is moving around these at about 0.5 metres a second, or one knot.

The modelling and observations are not completely precise but they are a big help, for example, the video below demonstrates how debris would move across the ocean over a period of nine months (data covers March – November 2009).

For media enquiries and more information regarding the search, visit JACC’s website.

For media enquiries regarding CSIRO’s involvement, contact Nick Kachel, 02 4960 6270 or nicholas.kachel@csiro.au.


How to create wealth from waste and reduce our landfill

Not a pile or rubbish but a rich urban mine of recyclable material. Image: Shutterstock/kanvag

Not a pile or rubbish but a rich urban mine of recyclable material. Image: Shutterstock/kanvag

By Anna Littleboy, Theme Leader, Australia’s Mineral Futures

While Australia’s rich stocks of raw mineral resources have contributed to the nation’s wealth and given us a competitive advantage we are also one of the highest waste producing nations in the world (on a per capita basis).

In 2009-10 we dumped 21.6 million tonnes of household and industrial waste in 918 landfill sites around Australia. Of all the waste we produced we recycled only about half (52%).

But can we do things differently? Can we change our production and consumption patterns to generate wealth from what we currently designate as waste?

The potential exists

Consider e-waste, which is the old TVs, DVDs, computers, household appliances and other electrical goods that we throw away. This type of waste has emerged as one of our fastest growing waste streams but only about 10% is recovered or recycled.

Obsolete computers and accessories shouldn’t end up in landfill when they can be recycled for metals and materials. Image: AAP Image/Alan Porritt

Obsolete computers and accessories shouldn’t end up in landfill when they can be recycled for metals and materials. Image: AAP/Alan Porritt

But e-waste devices also include valuable metals such as copper, silver, gold, palladium and other rare materials which means they are also ending up in landfill.

By 2008 we had already sent some 17 million televisions and 37 million computers to landfill, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS).

But if 75% of the 1.5 million televisions discarded annually could be recycled we could save 23,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions, 520 mega litres of water, 400,000 gigajoules of energy and 160,000 cubic metres of landfill space.

Another way of looking at this is to compare gold yielded from an open pit mine with that from discarded electrical goods. Mining yields 1 to 5 grams of gold for every one tonne of ore. From the same quantity of discarded mobile phones and computer circuit boards, you can extract 350 grams and 250 grams respectively.

The new urban mines

In a world increasingly addressing issues of sustainability, it’s no wonder that such end-of-life products are now being seen as urban mines – valuable sources of above-ground metals which can be recycled and reused.

That is the concept of the “circular economy”.

There is already some extensive recycling activity in Australia, helped by schemes such as the national Product Stewardship framework which encourages people to reduce waste.

But we still lose significant amounts of valuable and recyclable materials into landfill and park valuable metals in tailings and spoil heaps.

Given Australia is already a global leader in primary resource production from the ground, it is timely to think about how we might also adapt and grow our expertise to mine and process above ground stocks and remain at the cutting edge.

Can we lead the urban mining revolution?

Globally, there is already growing capacity and innovation in recycling.

Some recycling of rubbish is being done, such as at the Visy recycling plant in Brisbane, but we can do more. Image: AAP/Dan Peled

Some recycling of rubbish is being done, such as at the Visy recycling plant in Brisbane, but we can do more. Image: AAP/Dan Peled

New forms of manufacturing and business models are being developed that integrate secondary manufacturing of recycled materials.

So the potential is there to diversify and adapt Australia’s skills and technologies to support the new forms of processing and manufacturing in this circular economy.

Why don’t we do this?

A major challenge lies in the ability to persuade people and industry to see waste products as a resource rather than a liability. We need to create more responsive manufacturing, processing innovation and new business models around recycling.

This will challenge the way we currently operate as a nation and ask us to rethink how we relate to consumer markets around the world.

We can’t keep relying solely on our raw mineral resources. Some commentators are now discussing materials scarcity as a bigger issue than energy scarcity.

This scarcity is driving a move towards a circular economy – one in which the value created by inputs (materials, energy and labour) is extended by enabling a material life that goes beyond product life. So we go from mineral to metal, to product, back to metal and so on.

By understanding such economies and value of how this chain operates in Australia, we can begin to understand, at scale, the barriers and opportunities to more sustainable consumption and production in a resource limited future.

Looking for a new solution

That’s why CSIRO and its university partners led by University of Technology Sydney are today launching the Wealth from Waste Research Collaboration Cluster to do just this.

Too much rubbish - Australia leads the way in waste per capita. Image: Waste Atlas

Too much rubbish – Australia leads the way in waste per capita. Image: Waste Atlas

Although the technological challenges of complex materials processing are fascinating, it is innovative business models that hold the key to unlocking the wealth in our waste.

We also need to understand more about the cultural norms to see what needs changing.

Clean Up Australia found that around 14 million phones sit unused in drawers or cupboards, that’s equivalent to almost one unused phone for every two people in the country.

Although 90% of the materials within a mobile phone can be re-used, globally less than 10% of mobile phones are actually recycled. So why when we already have a solution do we not act to recycle our waste?

The research programme will be about finding new ways of doing things that accommodate our relatively small domestic materials market and challengs the mindset that size matters when it comes to complex materials processing.

If we wish to add urban mining to our global mining reputation then we need to couple research, industry and policy transitions for success in a future where recycling is an integral component of resource productivity, not a niche specialism.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


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