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Educator out to change behaviour around waste

Rachel McIntyre still remembers the day when it was explained to her how recycling worked.

“One of the mothers who was assisting with the launch of the first recycling program in my primary school explained the processing of recycling and she said, ‘instead of sending it to the garbage tip, we are going to take this bit of paper to a factory and turn it into a new piece of paper that we can use again’,” said McIntyre. “I was aged about 9 at the time and I remembered thinking, ‘That is genius! Why haven’t we being doing this all along?’ That set me up for a very supportive view of recycling from a very early age.”

Almost 30 years later, McIntyre is exactly where she would like to be in terms of career. After getting an environmental degree in Sustainable Resource Management and Marine Science at the University of Newcastle, she worked at an ecological consulting firm for 18 months before heading overseas. After the 12-month break, she returned to Australia in the middle of the GFC and pickings were slim on the environment front, but she saw opportunities in the waste space.

“I started seeing jobs in the waste industry and thought that was something I could see myself in and something that really aligned with my values. I’ve always been a bit of a recycling nerd,” she said.

Seven years ago, a role within EnviroCom came up and McIntyre became a consultant for the company, which is part of the JJ’s Waste & Recycling Group.

“We are behaviour change specialists in the field of waste and resource recovery, as well as wider sustainability. EnviroCom has worked in partnership with councils and businesses to provide education, technical and training services within the sector across metropolitan and regional areas.”

Spreading the word
It is an educational role that covers a whole gambit of areas within the waste disposal industry. McIntyre helps deliver professional development face-to-face workshops and webinars to primary school teachers and early learning centre educators. When it comes
to early learning centres, they
have the National Quality Framework and a number of sustainability requirements they must meet within this, said McIntyre.

“We provide those workshops to assist them in meeting or exceeding those targets. We provide them with kits that have a Waste Calculator and resource CD to assist them with conducting their own internal waste audits and identifying opportunities for waste minimisation. We also supply books, posters and activities to provide them with the confidence, skills and tools, in terms of physical recourses, which will allow them to conduct ongoing waste education,” she said.

EnviroCom also delivers pop-up education displays in shopping centres whereby McIntyre and her team will talk to people about a range of waste-related topics, including how to make the best use of council waste collection and other related services.

“It was about raising awareness about simple food waste avoidance techniques, such as meal planning and shopping to a list. The displays also heavily promoted the EPA’s online Food Smart Program,” said McIntyre.

Delivering to the community
EnviroCom also delivers its programs to CALD (cultural and linguistically diverse communities). The team is often assisted by translators to remove language barriers.

“Many new migrants/refugees may not have had positive experiences with the governments of their countries of origin, and may have reduced ability to access important information due to language barriers. It’s important to create opportunities for these community members to obtain information about some of the basics of Australian life, in an environment that is safe and supportive, such as within their own language or peer groups.”

Media influence
And how does the public respond to all these initiatives? It can vary, according to McIntyre, but she is quick to point out that world events, and the media, have a huge say in how their campaigns are perceived.

“A couple of years ago when the China Sword policy was announced there was a Four Corners program that aired,” she said. “And although there was a lot of interesting and accurate information, I think a lot of people in the waste industry didn’t feel that it told the full story. Unfortunately, I felt that it undid 20 years’ worth of recycling education in many respects.

“I felt that the takeaway a lot of people got from the report was that most recycling is sent to landfill, that most of our country’s recycling went to China, and so there was no longer anywhere for it to go and that we don’t do any on-shore recycling, which is not accurate. A lot of councils and education consultants in the waste industry have had a hard time selling the recycling message in the past two or so years in the wake of that report, because often residents were responding with ‘it all goes to landfill anyway, so what is the point
of recycling?’”

Wish list
McIntyre is positive that the education systems they have in place are good, but there is still room for a lot of improvement in certain aspects. It’s not just about educating the kids and local communities about recycling content, but about getting manufacturers and businesses to see waste as a useful tool that can be reused as content in finished products.

“I have been frustrated by the lack of recycled content in everyday packaging and items,” she said. “We hear about the struggling recycling industry, and so we need to create markets for the product. The price of recycling has been declining, and with the China Sword policy, it crashed through the floor to the point where councils and contractors were paying to get rid of it, rather than receiving money.

“However, there has been a number of positive things to come out of that China Sword policy. Why are we sending our waste to other countries, and less developed countries, when we have the potential to do so much with it here? When you look at the carbon emissions created from all the shipping around the world it seems an unnecessary strain on our environment. I’m really excited to see the target of 30 per cent recycled content to be used in packaging by 2025 set in the National Packaging Targets 2025, and with initiatives such as the Recycling Modernisation Fund and Remanufacture NSW, we have the opportunity to really make a go of it.”