Recycling Victoria

It’s not rubbish – The case for a design-led approach to recycling

The Victorian Government has just announced that one million households across 46 councils will now have four kerbside bins by next year, as part of its plan to reduce waste going to landfill by 80% over the next decade. The new bins will separate regular recycling, food and garden waste, household waste and now glass recycling.

In response to the collapse of local recyclers and overseas channels, in 2019 Infrastructure Victoria commissioned a report on the state’s recycling system. Cobalt submitted a response to the interim version of this report arguing the case for a design-lead user insights exercise to bring together key industry and government stakeholders around end-users’ needs.

Cobalt welcomes the direction of the announced initiative, while noting it is still only a plan.  We believe people are ready to do more in terms of recycling. For example, we noticed this trend in our design research, and more tangibly from our clients, who in turn are responding to end-users preferences toward more sustainable products.

What will be critical to the initiative’s success however is how it is rolled out across homes. Therefore, Cobalt sees the next steps being to gather and integrate user and stakeholder needs. We know local councils, government and industry will have well-articulated needs, so our focus would be on uncovering the diverse needs of the Victorian public.

Capturing the insights of everyday people will enable the delivery of a implementable system that is truly embraced, rather than begrudgingly used.

The main considerations of a human centred design approach should revolve around:

  • How Victorians across different household, profiles, locations and councils and municipalities currently manage their waste and recyclables
  • Uncovering the personal motivations, barriers, deterrents, and drivers behind the public’s recycling habits to understand how best to implement any collection process
  • Uncovering all relevant stakeholder’s unarticulated needs, concerns and potential misconceptions of how waste should be managed at each stage of the recycling process

We look forward to seeing Victoria’s recycling habits improve through this new initiative, so long as the end result can be sustained long-term and the needs of the end-users are championed in the process. Regardless, the initiative is a positive move in the right direction and provides solid groundwork for resource recovery in Victoria.

Read Cobalt’s full published response to Infrastructure Victoria’s initial interim findings here.

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Cobalt Fire Initiative

The Cobalt Fire Initiative

Cobalt stands with Australia. Cobalt stands for innovation.

Like people everywhere, we’ve been watching in dismay as Australian communities, lives and wildlife have been consumed by the on going fires. We extend our sympathy and thoughts to all those personally affected. And we want to help.

Coming together as a team after our Christmas leave, we’ve thought of how we can best contribute to rebuilding what we can, and better protecting ourselves from future fire emergencies. Our team agreed that we could offer more than a purely financial contribution; we wanted to help by doing what we do best. So here’s our response; the Cobalt Fire Initiative.


Cobalt and our staff will contribute up to $50,000 in pro bono fees on a dollar-for-dollar basis of an agreed new product development project/s related to:

  • Bushfire detection
  • Fire fighting
  • Rural community rebuilding

So we are calling for innovative companies, be they established or start-ups (local or multinational), to partner with us and combine their technology with our user centred design and production engineering know how to create tangible products that will make a real difference to people. We have no pre-conceptions about the technologies or product idea as our only measure will be the project’s ability to make a positive difference.

Therefore, the idea could be low or high tech; conceptual or near-production ready. The following are just some examples, and we remain open to all suitable ideas from genuine clients:

  • IoT deployable smoke sensing pods
  • Adaptions to fire vehicles or fittings that improve operational effectiveness or safety
  • Products or systems that increase the ability of homes or buildings to withstand fire

We’d love to hear more ideas. For more information or to confidentially discuss your idea, please contact us at Cobalt on +61 3 9320 2200, or email

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Eco Upgrade

Cobalt Powers On

Recently Cobalt completed a major energy efficiency upgrade to our North Melbourne offices.

The works so far include a 12kw, 39 panel array of solar panels, an ultra-efficient HVAC system, extensive sealing and insulation works and new LED lighting throughout the building.  These works have already effectively reduced our daily energy consumption by up to 45%. And once stage 2 (energy efficient appliances) is fully complete we are on track to exceed our original target of being 50% self-sufficient in power.


Since 1996 we’ve believed that design should be socially responsible. So we’ve long wanted our building to have as small an environmental footprint as possible.  But at various points we’d been told that our site didn’t suit PV panels due to a taller neighbouring building immediately on our north boundary.

Despite this, Cobalt Director Jack Magree continued to believe a design workaround could be found, if only we could find the right supplier and a means of making it happen.

Solutions Align

In 2018 two key circumstances aligned enabling us to realise our dream; a financial solution which allowed us to fund the investment, and an engineering solution that could work.

In terms of funding we learnt of MCC’s innovative approach to creating smarter more efficient buildings through the Sustainable Australia Fund (SAF).  SAF was established by the City of Melbourne Council in 2002 to help businesses to invest in their buildings and operations to achieve better sustainable outcomes.  In brief, SAF provides the upfront funding for the works, and the repayments for this loan are based on the resultant savings in energy costs.  Once the investment is repaid, the environmental and cost benefits continue indefinitely for a win-win outcome.

The second alignment came via SAF who introduced us to GenesisNow, an energy engineering and implementation services group. GenesisNow immediately felt like kindred spirits to us, as they had a refreshingly can-do culture combined with a highly technical and professional skill set. Genesis’ founder, Geoff Andrews and his Engineering Manager Jon Fettes took the limitations of our site as a challenge that they wanted to solve. Their first step was a full shading analysis and simulation. This proved that shadowing could be managed to negligible levels through a cantilevered installation combined with new technology PV panels each with its own micro inverter.

Comfort and Efficiency

Producing energy is one side of the equation. Using less of it is the other. An initial power and building audit identified our existing HVAC (heating ventilation and air-conditioning unit) and lighting as the biggest and best items to change.

For HVAC GenesisNow again took a less conventional approach. They relied on the experience of HVAC  specialists EcoServices who according to Jack “specified a revolutionary  German-engineered smart system that moves air silently using the theory of Brownian motion of particles to transfer heat and cold air”.  The systems software continuously monitors  the  outside and inside temperatures,  humidity, CO2 levels, and the pressure of the building, to run far more efficiently than conventional systems.  As an example, said Jack, “On a recent 42oC (108oF) day our new HVAC system’s compressor was only running at 50% capacity. The system is smart enough to learn how quickly or slowly it achieves the target ‘comfort’ values so it can perform optimally in future.”

A central aspect to this system was to significantly upgrade the seals in the building; no mean feat given the fact that our office was built as a basic warehouse in the 1950’s. Another measure of how well the system performs is that despite the studio’s industrial height ceilings the multiple sensors show minimal temperature stratification, keeping the temperature within 1-2 deg throughout the building.

Capping off the HVAC’s smarts, is complete IoT monitoring and control. This allows offsite, expert system diagnostics and onsite adjustment through a web-based portal.  According to Jack, “watching the system’s dashboard certainly helps motivate us to use energy wisely, albeit can be mildly addictive!”

Let There Be Light

The last major piece of the upgrade was to replace our 150W metal halide ‘high bay’ studio lights. Designers are very demanding about their light; needing ample levels of even, natural tone to minimise shadows, render colours accurately and avoid over bright or dull areas.

The studio level’s 20 ‘high bay’ halide lights were originally selected 15 years ago as the premium choice of evenly  illuminating the studio by reflecting some of their light off the high pitched ceiling. And the light fittings themselves looked great as well.

In comparison, LED have a comparatively narrow focus so a low-power alternative that equalled the status quo was always going to be difficult.  The solution involves a triple LED bulb custom designed to fit into the existing housing to reflect light up and down, as well as additional skylight-style LED panel lights to create close to uniform 270 lux lighting at desk level throughout the studio.

The Result

Apart from lower environmental impact and power bills, the result of our eco upgrade is greater comfort, better lighting with the consensus from our team being overwhelmingly positive.

  • “It just feels pleasant, and quiet all the time”
  • “Transformative”
  • “Not sure how we put up with the old system for so long”
  • “Great that we are reducing our CO2 and fossil fuel use”
  • “We’ve literally breezed through the hottest summer on record without noticing”

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