Talking Circular Communities with Chad Buxton


As a marine scientist, Chad Buxton sees the impact our actions and decisions have on the oceans every day. He also knows the power of community when it comes to changing our behaviour and embracing sustainability.

Chad Buxton is the founder of Circular Communities, a consultancy focused on harnessing this power to help navigate change for good – change that is good for people, business and our environment.

Living Smart chatted with him recently to find out more about what circular communities are and the opportunities for our Sunshine Coast community to get on board. 

Building a circular community

The term “circular economy” is a bit of a buzzword at the moment. While Chad thinks the practical application of the term is poorly understood, he sees it as a huge opportunity to engage the community and businesses to think about waste differently.

There are three principles to a circular economy:

  1. Designing out waste and pollution by changing practices. For a business, this may mean implementing a reusable system, reducing electricity and water use, increasing the use of recycled materials and reducing packaging.
  2. Keeping products and materials in use, including eliminating single use. For example, a café could implement a reusable system or minimise its waste streams through tools like ASPIRE. At home, this could be fixing items instead of throwing them out or buying second hand.
  3. Regenerating natural systems. For example, turning food waste into compost like the Yandina Community Gardens is doing with the Food Loop program. 

As a consultant working with Sunshine Coast Council, community groups and local businesses, Chad’s role is to support the development of a circular community based on circular economy principles. 

“A circular community uses what’s available first. It’s a mindset change from buying what we need new and instead turning to resources that already exist around us,” Chad said.

Many local businesses and community groups have already taken up the challenge.

*“We are seeing some fantastic examples emerging locally,” says Chad. “Your Mates Brewery sends their spent grain to local farmers as cattle feed and then uses the meat from the cattle in their restaurant. The spent grain becomes a valuable resource instead of a waste product.”* 

Like any change, the first step is being aware of the waste that you generate as a business or a family. Chad encourages us all to ask these questions:

  • Do you know what you are throwing away?
  • Where does it go? 
  • What steps can you take to divert those items from landfill, such as give the item away, recycle, upcycle, reuse or repair.

Choose one change that feels achievable and go from there.

Increased community awareness and action

Chad says the biggest change he has seen over the past few years is increased community awareness about sustainability issues.

“Whether it’s about single use plastic, picking up rubbish, being more conscious of what we buy or just engaging in sustainability generally, people are committing to making a difference. And the level of awareness among young people is fantastic,” he said.  

Established businesses are starting to commit to change because it’s important to them and customers are actively seeking out proactive businesses.” 

At home, Chad and his family have significantly reduced their waste to landfill by separating soft plastics and recycling them through the REDCycle program, separating other recyclable items such as bottle caps, and composting

“What motivates each of us is different. I have young children and want to leave the planet in as decent a place as possible for them. My motivation is to help people change habits so we are making as little impact as possible…and habits are hard to break.”

Current projects and opportunities to be involved

Chad is known for his role in taking Plastic Free Noosa from concept to a community-driven movement for sustainability. The model was so successful at raising community awareness and reducing single use plastics that it has been replicated across the country.  

Now Chad’s championing ASPIRE, a new national initiative to turn one business’ waste into another’s treasure. ASPIRE offers businesses, schools and community groups the opportunity to trade, exchange or sell their unwanted waste, reducing disposal costs and the amount of waste sent to landfill. 

The platform is free to Sunshine Coast schools and community groups as well as businesses with up to 100 full-time staff. Chad is turning his community engagement skills to the project, helping businesses to understand the benefits and supporting them join. 

Chad has also been working closely with local cafés and Green Caffeen, implementing swap cup systems that eliminate single-use coffee cups and lids. The program is free for businesses and their customers. 

5 actions you can take to build a circular community

  1. Consider – what waste will the things you buy produce? Reduce packaging and other waste where you can.
  2. Be prepared – design out your waste by taking reusables or leaving them in the car.
  3. Encourage – talk to your local businesses about how protecting the planet is important to you. Suggest programs they can be involved in.
  4. Practice – separate waste at home and work. Recycle soft plastics through the RedCycle program at Coles and Woolworths.
  5. Get involved – learn more or join one of the programs that are already making an impact: ASPIRE, ecoBiz, BEAP, Cleantech Industries Sunshine Coast (CISC), Green Caffeen or Food Loop

A bit more about Chads story

Like many Sunshine Coaster’s, Chad ended up on the coast almost by accident. The born and bred Californian has led an eclectic life – from the city to the mountains and finally to the coast. It was the coast that changed everything and set him on a trajectory to leave the world a better place. 

In his youth, Chad joined the US Navy intending to use the income to fund a college education upon release. However, things didn’t quite work out as planned and a disillusioned Chad headed to Los Angeles to go surfing. It was there he also discovered an aquarium.

“I started volunteering at the aquarium and working summer camps at a nearby island as a marine science teacher,” Chad said. “My path became clearer when the team of ocean lovers around me recognised my passion and encouraged me to become a marine scientist,” Chad said.

The following year, Chad took a gap year in Australia and became a dive instructor on the Great Barrier Reef – 21 years later he is still here! He met his wife, fell in love, and decided to stay. Part of the first cohort of marine science students at UQ, Chad completed his degree then moved to Cairns to work.

Making an impact 

Fresh from university and full of dreams, Chad was asked to help run the reef monitoring program for Quiksilver, helping to protect the reef from predators like Crown of Thorns and monitor other impacts.

“It quickly became apparent we could only look after the reefs that were commercially visited, which was less than 1% of the whole system,” Chad said. “While this made sense for the business and tourist experience, it made me realise how vast the problems were.”

"The ocean comprises 70% of our planet. Therefore, you have to find ways to make as big an impact as possible with the time and tools you have," Chad said. “We’re fortunate here on the Sunshine Coast to have access to a range of tools and programs which makes it possible for all of us to make a difference.”

The power of workingupstream” 

As Chad’s hero Jacques Cousteau said: “pollution of the air or of the land all ultimately ends up in the sea”. Chad realised early on the power of taking action “upstream” for protecting our oceans. That means stopping pollution at the source, instead of continually creating it and cleaning it up. 

“Any time we can work upstream and engage businesses or manufacturers causing some of this harm, that is an ideal approach that gets the entire community involved,” Chad said.

*“Many business owners want to reduce their impact and look for any opportunity they can to be more sustainable, which includes reducing single use plastics as well as waste, water and energy.”* 

Programs that can assist businesses to stop wasting and start saving include EcoBiz and the Business Energy Advice Program (BEAP). There is also an army of local Cleantech Solution Providers through local membership-based group Cleantech Industries Sunshine Coast (CISC).

If you would like to connect with Chad from Circular Communities about opportunities to be involved in ASPIRE, Green Caffeen or another circular economy/community project, reach out to him via email.

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