There is a shift around the world toward a circular economy where waste products from one process are turned into resources for another.

Professor Dirk Erler

Southern Cross University biogeochemist


Plastic waste on Ambon Island Indonesia

Tackling the global waste problem

Bringing together research expertise in geochemistry, environmental science, engineering, business and education to develop solutions for our global waste problem.  

Our research addresses the barriers associated with integrating wastes into the circular economy, developing and implementing cutting-edge scientific, technical, social, economic and education-based solutions. 


Led by Southern Cross, ReCirculator connects NSW Northern Rivers businesses in a circular economy ecosystem of cutting-edge technology

Environmental Analysis Laboratory

Specialising in quality analytical services, including testing for agricultural soil, plant, acid sulfate soil, contaminants and more

Linkage projects

Southern Cross is collaborating with industry and community to deliver a number of ARC-funded research projects

Key research projects

Transforming meat residue into agricultural soil - image shows dark coloured cow
Transforming meat residue into agricultural soil

Red meat processing in Australia is facing significant challenges including growing volumes of organic residues that are an economic and environmental liability. This ARC Linkage project led by Associate Professor Dirk Erler aims to develop a new technology that can transform the organic residues from red meat processing into engineered hydrochars. These hydrochars will be customised to store soil nutrients, improve plant growth, and actively mitigate greenhouse gas emissions.

Dirk Erler and Shane McIntosh onsite

As a champion of the circular economy model in the Northern Rivers, Southern Cross is partnering with local industry to reduce waste while creating jobs and driving innovation. The ReCirculator project connects NSW Northern Rivers businesses in a circular economy ecosystem of cutting-edge technology. It acts as an economic growth driver by saving costs, improving productivity, regenerating resources and creating resilient jobs.

A cucumber hothouse filled with mature plants (credit Shane White)
Woodchip bioreactors reducing fertiliser pollution

To combat fertiliser pollution in waterways as a result of expanding agricultural production, Southern Cross University is working with the Coffs Harbour City Council and North Coast Local Land Services to trial new mitigation strategies. Researchers from our National Marine Science Centre have found prototype woodchip bioreactors may reduce nitrogen pollution entering nearby waterways by as much as 85% in the right conditions.

Young girl recycling cans into bin
Waste Wise Schools

Waste Wise Schools is an action-based program that encourages schools to move toward zero waste through their curriculum and operating practices. Established in 1997, the program has been implemented in hundreds of Australian schools. It has experienced tangible success in reducing schools’ waste through its approach of reduce, reuse, and recycle.

Blueberry rust infected blueberry leaves showing yellow rust
Blueberry rust control on organic farms

Blueberry rust is caused by the fungus Thekopsora minima. The disease affects plant leaves reducing photosynthetic area and causing leaf drop, loss of vigour and reduced yield. Centre for Organics Research Plant Pathologist, Dr Jay Anderson is part of a collaborative research team working to expand the range of crop protectants available to organic blueberry growers for control of blueberry rust disease.

Marine plastic pollution
Marine plastic research partnership

Southern Cross University is part of an international research partnership tackling marine plastic pollution. Professor Amanda Reichelt-Brushett's expertise in marine ecology and marine pollution is enhancing the partnership between Southern Cross University, the Pacific Islands Development Forum and the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry (FICCI). 

Researcher profiles

Associate Professor Dirk Erler on RV Investigator vessel
Professor Dirk Erler

Professor Dirk Erler's research strives to understand the biogeochemical functioning of natural systems, and in doing so find solutions that will enable industry to advance sustainability and embed itself within the global push towards a Circular Economy. Based in the Faculty of Science and Engineering, he is currently part of a team bringing scientific expertise and academic rigour to the ReCirculator program. This research will focus on developing and testing pilot scale solutions for industry partners in the Northern Rivers. The overall objective of Professor Erler’s work is to transform previously expensive and harmful industrial waste practices into systems that deliver environmental, economic, and community benefits. 

Professor Andrew Rose
Professor Andrew Rose

How we deal with waste is one of the most pressing environmental challenges facing the world. For Professor Andrew Rose, the principles of the circular economy are key to better waste management and resource regeneration, with the example of Southern Cross University’s ReCirculator project a brilliant example of local initiative with global reach. Engaging Northern Rivers businesses around manufacturing, agriculture and food production, Professor Rose and his colleagues are showing how ReCirculator can drive economic growth, reduce costs, lift productivity, regenerate resources, create employment – and tackle industrial waste.

Professor Amanda Reichelt-Brushett
Professor Amanda Reichelt-Brushett

Two centuries of human intervention have not been kind to the Richmond River catchment in the Northern Rivers region. In the aftermath of the 2022 Lismore floods, Professor Amanda Reichelt-Brushett began looking into the past for clues that might lead to new policies and practices to restore and sustain the catchment in the future. The result is a project with a strong community connection, one that is “re-visioning” the health of the Richmond River by seeking more informed approaches to land use and management.

Blonde haired lady smiling with bushes in background
Professor Amy Cutter-Mackenzie Knowles

Time was when the three Rs of education referred to "reading, 'riting and 'rithmetic". Today, three more Rs – reduce, reuse and recycle – are finding necessary prominence in our schools. As massive consumption creates a rising mountain of global waste, it is so important to have educators like Professor Amy Cutter-Mackenzie-Knowles and initiatives like Waste Wise Schools. In encouraging awareness of the circular economy, and developing strategies to support it, the next generation can lead thinking and action to thwart the global waste challenge. 

Dr Lachlan Yee outside at Lismore campus
Dr Lachlan Yee

When it comes to protecting the environment and the ecosystems within it, plastics and polymers are often seen as the enemy. But does it have to be this way? What if plastics could be improved to such an extent as to help the environment through sustainability and adaptation? Incongruous as it may sound, it is already happening, and Southern Cross University’s Dr Lachlan Yee is one of an international cohort of researchers working towards exciting advances in polymer science (the science of plastics). The research is a partnership with the environment itself, as nature provides the clues and components to combat a massive environmental issue.