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Young Professional: A deep commitment to changing waste behaviour

In this month’s Young Professional article, we profile EnviroCom Australia’s Environmental Consultant, NSW Jo Smith.

A degree in Conservation Biology and Zoology at the University of Western Australia combined with a passion for the natural environment were two key factors in leading Smith into the world of waste and resource recovery.

She told Inside Waste that new technology and educational approaches which enable society to think about its attitude to waste and the environmental and human impacts were deeply inspiring for her.

“When I was offered the chance to enter the waste sector, I leapt at it. Not only for the opportunity to make real, positive change at a local level, but to view and measure that change, knowing that my efforts and those of the community could make a difference.

“I was also very keen on being able to work within the close-knit, supportive EnviroCom team and learn from experienced supervisors and colleagues,” she said.

Co-ordinating in the Pilbara

Smith’s first full-time role in a waste-related sector was as association coordinator with the Care For Hedland Environmental Association. Based in Port Hedland, in the Pilbara region of WA, she coordinated staff and volunteers to assist with conservation and environmental programs. These included sea turtle monitoring during turtle nesting season, litter clean ups, recycle days and shorebird watching events.

“It was here that I first gained experience and exposure to the world of waste. Having run a monthly ‘recycle day’ as the Town of Port Hedland didn’t have a kerbside recycling service, I learned more about the recycling industry and its challenges in a regional area. I also had the opportunity to liaise with companies such as Cleanaway and Toxfree, and the Waste Services Manager of the Town of Port Hedland,” she added

Challenge to change behaviour

Smith told Inside Waste that the most challenging aspect of her current role was igniting behaviour change around waste and recycling.

“I manage Envirocom’s waste education contract with Orange City Council. The Council provides a FOGO service to residents but excludes the use of compostable bags with this service.

“Although this means contamination is very low, it can be difficult to encourage residents to use the FOGO service for their household food waste, as for many people this is a big change in disposal habits. It is crucial that food waste is diverted from landfill, to avoid excess methane emissions and potentially toxic leachate, while simultaneously providing a valuable resource in the form of compost,” she said.

A COVID re-think

Smith is candid when she says that COVID-19 forced herself and the EnviroCom team to “think outside the box” about waste education programs.

“After a several weeks of working from home when the pandemic first hit and rethinking some of the initiatives that were originally planned, we came up with new ideas. We started focusing on delivering webinars, creating media campaigns (with focus on events such as National Recycling Week and Plastic Free July) and I even started making cartoon videos for various councils with their preferred waste education messages.

“The videos were fun to make and a great new skill that I now have under my belt, plus they have been effective in communicating information to the general public, and councils have received positive feedback from residents.

However, COVID-19 had a significant impact on Smith, who wasn’t able to visit family and friends in Perth.

“I feel lucky to have a permanent position with EnviroCom, and since moving to Orange in November 2019, I hope to stay for several years to build up my skills, meet fellow waste educators and assist new staff joining the team. At some point in the future I would like to spend time in Germany or France, ideally working in waste education.

If Smith was the Prime Minister or Environment Minister, her top three priorities for the WARR industry would be to mandate that all products be made from recycled materials. She believes this would expand the market for domestic recycling product and reduce Australia’s dependence on raw, virgin materials.

“This could apply to products across all streams (MSW, C&I, C&D) and bring about an expansion of current recycling technology and demand. I would also streamline production, particularly with regard to plastics, and eliminate the need for multiple plastic types as well as focusing on diverting organic waste from landfill, as the methane emitted from landfill contributes to three per cent of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions.

“The use of commercial composting facilities or even home composting can make a huge difference to the quantity of waste entering landfill.

“However, technology is becoming more advanced and it’s great to see fantastic solutions popping up all the time,” she added.