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What inspired a fledgling WARR leader to pursue her career

It was while she watched a documentary at the University of New South Wales that revealed the impact that e-waste from western countries was having on the health of the population of African countries, that Celine El‑Khouri​ made a deep commitment to the WARR industry.

“I have wanted to be in this industry since those days when I studied Civil and Environmental Engineering and saw that documentary.

“We also researched how contaminants ended up in waterways or in soils and contributed to human illnesses. One case was the cadmium from e-waste, which contributed to increased cases of cancer,” she said.

According to El‑Khouri, it was then that she realised that it wasn’t only the environment that was impacted by consumption, but that human health, on a global scale, was directly linked to the ability to manage resources that are consumed.

“From then I committed to work where I could contribute to improved resource management processes and to the health of our communities and the environment,” she said

 Climate Council volunteer

El‑Khouri accepted a volunteer role at the Climate Council, one which she said helped her to understand the experience of communities in relation to environmental issues. She was also able to gain a deep appreciation for the role of expert science and research in the journey to sustainability.

From there, she moved into a paid position as an engineer in a contaminated lands consultancy.

“While I learned valuable skills, I knew that this wasn’t the role I had envisioned where I would contribute to the resource recovery industry. I then decided to join the WARR industry and found my way into GHD’s waste and resources team, and most recently SLR’s,” she said.

Challenge to find solutions

Within her role as a solutions advisor, El‑Khouri believes the biggest challenge is to be able to grasp all the impacts that a solution to a problem might have on a large variety of people, then finding the answer that might be the best fit for all.

“The ability to fully understand all the impacts that a resource recovery system could have, including impacts on employment opportunities, long term health effects, and emissions across the whole life cycle of the solution, is not simple, but it is important,” she said.

A COVID insight

For El‑Khouri, COVID heightened her awareness of the essential nature of the WARR industry.

“I think COVID has also made others realise that we have a need for local infrastructure to support us in changing situations, especially where there may be surges in particular types of wastes. Living through COVID, I feel like it has not only made this industry a busier one, but hopefully with added attention, there will also come more support for additional infrastructure and resource management processes,” she explained.

Technical leadership

El‑Khouri is clearly focused on her goals and believes that by 2025, she will be on her my way to becoming a technical leader in the area of waste and resource recovery.

“I also want to find ways to drive universities to encourage students to enter the industry of resource management, and I hope to contribute to this, with my role as chair of the NSW Young Professionals Working Group of WMRR. Being a part of the Group was a long-term goal, so I’m also really looking forward to learning from other young professionals in this industry, especially since I think we have a large role in working together for the continuous improvement of our industry,” she added.

Her vision for Australia

If El‑Khouri was either Prime Minister or Environment Minister, her first priority would be to encourage Australian universities to develop undergraduate courses specific to waste management and resource recovery.

“Our industry is going to keep growing and will need young and bright professionals, so I think starting with undergraduate courses is a great way to contribute to the growth of this industry.

“My second priority would be to look at ways to create a greater local market for recyclables. In order to support Australia in its progressive move towards a circular economy, it would be beneficial if local incentives for buying our resources are there, including perhaps the implementation of policies for producers to support the circulation of resources.

“This could include for example, ways to encourage or mandate that producers create products that can be disassembled and recycled, and that local producers include a percentage of recycled materials in their products.

“My third priority would be to look at funding for innovation and construction of resource recovery collection systems and infrastructure, especially in relation to organic waste, in order to help increase the diversion of organic waste and valuable resources from Australian landfills, and decrease our greenhouse gas emissions,” she concluded.

El‑Khouri is chair of the WMRR Young Professionals group. If you are interested in joining the WMRR Young Professionals, please contact office@wmrr.asn.au.