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Evaluating Barriers, Enablers and Opportunities for Closing the Loop through ‘Waste Upcycling’: A Systematic Literature Review

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Journal of Sustainable Development of Energy, Water and Environment Systems
Volume 10, Issue 1, 1080367
DOI: https://doi.org/10.13044/j.sdewes.d8.0367
Savindi Caldera1 , Randika Jayasinghe2, Cheryl Desha1, Les Dawes3, Selena Ferguson1
1 Cities Research Institute, Griffith University, Australia
2 Department of Biosystems Technology, Faculty of Technology, University of Sri Jayewardenepura, Sri Lanka
3 School of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Science and Engineering Faculty, Queensland University of Technology, Australia


The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals aim to ‘do more and better with less’, with numerous calls to action arising from the business sector concerning the substantial reduction of targeted types of commercial and industrial waste. Emanating from the original work on closing material loops by McDonough and Braungardt in the 1990s, over the last two decades the concept of ‘upcycling’ has increased in popularity as a targeted intervention to reduce material and energy use in business processes. Essentially upcycling involves reusing, repairing, repurposing and upgrading waste material to avoid the conventional endpoint of ‘disposal’. However, upcycling is still considered a niche practice and many business enterprises remain unclear as to how to use upcycling opportunities for better management of their waste. In this paper, the authors propose a Tiered Approach to Waste Upcycling for Business, as a strategic way for businesses to close the loop within their industrial processes and production chains. The paper comprises a systematic literature review of opportunities and barriers for enabling business enterprises to close the loop through waste upcycling. The review highlights the ad hoc, champion-based and highly variable use of upcycling practices and uncovers opportunities for more systematic and streamlined practices to produce value-added products from waste material. Synthesising the findings, the authors establish three tiers of ‘macro’, ‘meso’ and ‘micro’ barriers and enablers that businesses can consider identifying upcycling opportunities for managing their waste. The authors also discuss key benefits of upcycling including improved quality and life of material, creating jobs and influencing positive consumer behaviour. The authors conclude the benefits of a structured approach to considering circular economy opportunities, towards improved waste management that is better for the bottom line, people and planet. With regard to future research in the field, the authors define a set of key theoretical constructs relating to waste upcycling, that can facilitate innovation and investigations into applying ideas.

Keywords: Upcycling, waste management, circular economy, tiered approach, enablers, barriers

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