Features, Waste & Resource Recovery

Volunteer work helps improve waste management in Papua New Guinea

Imagine living on an island with luscious green land and pristine water. Only the problem is, that this stunning landscape is polluted by household waste.

For Charlotte Wesley, living on Norfolk Island as a child and volunteering in Papua New Guinea as an adult, has meant experiencing these sights.

“My first experience of waste was growing up in Norfolk Island where waste was just thrown over the cliff,” Wesley said.

She lived on Norfolk Island until she was six years old, before she and her family moved to Sydney. Wesley is now a senior environmental consultant at Arcadis and her passion lies in helping developing countries improve their waste management strategies.

“I was always interested in environmental issues and I really enjoyed the waste subjects at university. It’s an area that has a lot of opportunity and incentive to improve.”

Wesley said that while Norfolk Island now consolidates its waste and takes it to the mainland, many nations still need help with their waste management.

“In a lot of parts of the Pacific people are just throwing their waste into rivers and in the ocean. It’s really troubling.

“I saw similar actions where people had to dispose of their waste in the ocean. I know people don’t feel good about that.

“For my first assignment to Papua New Guinea as a university student, I was staying with a fishing family and seeing them throw their stuff in the ocean, when they see their environment as a resource, I don’t think they like that.”

In late 2018, Wesley returned to Papua New Guinea and spent six months volunteering as a waste management mentor – something she hopes to do every few years.

Wesley was teaching people employed in the waste industry how to collect data on issues faced in their waste management.

“They were really interested in the data. When they have all of that data they can develop a plan and strategy for improved systems,” Wesley explained. “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.”

She also helped them by making recommendations for decommissioning their dumping ground.

“I’d really like to do more of that. That’s my long-term goal – to be a waste consultant that can help out more in the Pacific.”

Wesley said it is a powerful thing to be able to work in the waste industry and make a difference to communities. Through Arcadis and her volunteer work, she is able to do this on a regular basis.

“We’ve all got to do something that we think is important. We’ve got to do something that challenges us; and the waste industry allows me to do that. Waste is an area where we can really make a difference.”

Australia’s road to making a difference in how resources are recovered is a continuous one. With plans to grow markets onshore as governments prepare for the export bans announced in 2019, the drive to see waste as a resource is being pushed even further.

Wesley explained that resource recovery recognises waste as material that has a greater purpose and value.

“We have a financial disincentive to put waste to landfill. The industry can be challenging as we are producing an abundant amount of resources and not knowing what to do with it, but we have a chance to make a change,” Wesley reiterated.

Wesley is a member of the WMRR Young Professionals group. If you are interested in joining the WMRR Young Professionals, please contact office@ wmrr.asn.au.