The Australian National Waste Report 2018, mentions community engagement numerous times, with state governments prioritising community education and public awareness of recycling and waste management. Engagement programs are widely prioritised by local and state governments, organisations and businesses in a bid to increase resource recovery.
One enterprise that has been successful in engaging its community has been operating in the New South Wales’ midcoast town of Tuncurry for the past 28 years. Resource Recovery Australia (Midcoast), through a contractor relationship with MidCoast Council, operates the Tuncurry Community Recycling Centre as a social enterprise.
This allows Resource Recovery Australia to create meaningful partnerships that demonstrate sustainability and provide participation opportunities for all community members, especially those experiencing disadvantage.
According to Australian Bureau of Statistics figures, the MidCoast Council area has and unemployment rate of 5.9 per cent – sitting above the state average of 4.4 per cent.
The Tuncurry site today includes a weighbridge, transfer station, landfill, container deposit collection and a host of community activities including salvage, tip shop, bike repair programs, community garden, organic recycling workshops and more.
Container Deposit Schemes (CDS) have been introduced in states to encourage community engagement in recycling. The ACT CDS, for example, commenced on in June 2018 – encouraging the community to recycle while reducing litter and the number of containers going to landfill. Like other schemes operating around the country, people can return eligible beverage containers and receive a 10 cent refund.
Resource Recovery Australia’s FY19 annual results that show its Midcoast operation diverted 291.76 tonnes of material from landfill for re-use and the new container deposit station recycled 4.8 million containers, since September 2018.
The community-facing site produces opportunities for local people through training, employment, Indigenous representation, community education and waste management.
Krysten Banks, Resource Recovery Australia Midcoast’s manager said the organisation operates on a commercial basis but as a social enterprise.
“We are effective waste managers for the purpose of achieving environmental and social outcomes.
“Our profits are re-invested in our people, the environment and community projects. We’re equally proud of our diversion rates, operational efficiency, job creation and community engagement successes.”
Banks said the organisation meets with the council monthly to discuss operational and strategic issues and challenges.
“I’ve learnt a lot from [the] council as our partner, and together we’ve achieved some amazing outcomes for our community.”
In the past year, Resource Recovery Australia Midcoast had about 40 per cent of its staff identifying as Aboriginal, as well as providing opportunities for people doing community service orders, work for the dole and volunteering. Overall, the site enabled 12,104 volunteer hours.
Resource Recovery Australia indicated that investing in good planning and design also helps create an effective community hub.
“The design of our site means that we recover a great deal before it even reaches the transfer station,” Banks said.
“There are two points that people pass through before they reach the transfer station – the CRC and the weigh bridge – where staff ask customers a lot of questions about what could be re-used or re-sold.”
The CRC also handles problem wastes such as batteries, e-waste, fluorescent tubes, motor oil, gas bottles, and was able to divert nearly six tonnes from landfill in the last financial year.
Banks estimated that the site received about 1200 visitors a week.