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  • Marie Mullen

Plastics and the Circular Economy Conference 2023 - Promoting a Circular Plastic Future

The Plastics and the Circular Economy Conference 2023 (PCEC) was held in Australia, bringing together people and organizations involved in packaging and plastics to contribute to a sustainable and low-carbon future. The conference was organized by the Australian Circular Economy Hub and aimed to shape a sustainable future for Australasia and beyond. The conference was held from October 3 to October 7, 2023, and was an ideal event for those wanting to contribute to a circular plastic future.

The conference consisted of various sessions and workshops that focused on the circular economy, sustainable materials, and waste management. One session focused on the management of plastic pollution in New South Wales. The sessions discussed the actions taken by the state in 2022, when a range of innovative measures were implemented to address the plastic problem including the ban on single-use plastic. The conference also featured keynote speakers who shared their insights and experiences on the circular economy and its potential to create a sustainable future. The conference was attended by industry experts, environmental and sustainability advocates, policymakers, and concerned citizens.

One of the conference’s highlights was the ACE Awards, which celebrated the visionaries, innovators, and change-makers of 2023 who are steering us toward a more sustainable and circular future. The awards consisted of five categories and were presented to the winners at the Circularity 2023. The trophies presented to the winners were made by Defy Design using recycled plastic and reclaimed materials. The Emerging Circular Leader Award was presented to Sarah D'Sylva, Circular Design Strategist, Hyloh. Sarah’s business, Hyloh, embraces the principles of circularity by challenging the idea of sustainable materials, advocating instead for a systematic approach to materiality within the circular economy. Hyloh operates transparently, fostering global collaboration, and is 100% minority-owned, addressing the unique needs of women. The award recognizes leaders who are 35 and under who, through their impact, have demonstrated the potential of a future circular economy in Australia and sparked forward-thinking.

A unique feature of this conference is the involvement of attendees. Not only do they listen to and participate in panels, presentations, and workshops, but the attendees can have their voices heard, and express their thoughts on the future direction of policy and targets to accelerate plastic circularity by voting in polls. The activity lets participants Topics covered included recovery and recycled content targets, circularity targets beyond packaging, and levers to achieve circularity targets. For example, one question asked participants to “Pick 3 top measures that they think will accelerate the plastics industry.” The results were recorded and made into a bar chart, as seen below.

Source: Society of Plastics Engineers Australian-New Zealand Chapter, 2023

From the results, the opinions of participants differed, but every measure got a vote, concluding that any action taken can have an impact. The poll results as well as the conference outcomes send a clear message to companies and governments that individuals want ambitious circular targets. Furthermore, there is support for policy and regulation creation and implementation that will enable and accelerate the reaching of circular targets across the value chain. 

The 2023 conference outcomes included required actions, what may work or not for targets, stages rollout and levels to improve supply, as well as market pull and economics for good plastics and recycling. However, there is still a large gap in improving the economics for real and effective management of plastics, both packaging and products. Although the 2024 PCEC is not planned yet, the 4th Australian Circular Economy Conference is set to take place in October 2024. The theme of this conference is “Bridging R&D and ESG Principles for Circular Economy.” Focusing on circular economy technology and research advancement in the field, this conference can address the gap identified by PCEC 2023.


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