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‘Moments of joy’ working in waste industry

Going from biomedical science to waste education was a no brainer for Andrew Snedden. The recently appointed community relationships manager for Clean-Up Australia went from the virology and immunology arena to educating students and communities on how to make their lives and environment cleaner, greener, and more sustainable. It was only a chance encounter with a television programme that made him realise he might follow his current career path in the industry.

“I remember years ago, before I was in the waste industry, watching a programme on the ABC,” he said.

“It was about a resource recovery officer and I didn’t even realise that it was an option or something I could be doing.”

After graduating with a Bachelor of Science from the University of Queensland, Snedden decided to
take the teaching path, which included a stint overseas in South America and Vietnam. This gave him his first inkling of working in the waste industry.

“I was travelling and volunteering with a program called Workaway, whereby you volunteer at different places – whether it be farms or hostels or schools,” he said. “For a couple of months, I worked at an eco-lodge. My role was to maintain the eco-standards of the lodge, which included managing the composting system that they had onsite.”

Being from the Northern Rivers region of NSW, he grew up in a part of the state where there was no local collection of any waste by the council. The family had to compost its own food scraps, while the recycling and other waste had to be taken to the local tip or recycling centre.

“I grew up naturally in tune with the amount of waste that was being produced around me,” said Snedden. “I’ve always been waste aware. I was raised with sustainable and regenerative values. Certainly, since being employed in the waste industry, and working directly in education, sustainability has become a focus and has become a real passion and driving force for me.”

His most recent role was with Cleanaway. He started out in the company as a resource recovery officer where he worked with the company’s commercial customers on their waste management practices and sustainability plans. His most recent role was as an education coordinator for Cleanaway’s NSW Centre for Sustainability, which he enjoyed immensely.

“That role involved educating communities and schools across the entire state of NSW, working towards short- and long-term behaviour change,” he said. “I believe that slow generational change is needed, along with the urgent immediate change that is required, to address some of the problems that we are facing as a country and planet with regard to climate and waste.”

And what are some of the problems that are currently on his radar? There are three that he sees immediately – plastics, organic waste to landfill, and the overconsumption of resources.

“There are lots of different issues that we can be playing a part in solving, and it is my belief if we continue embedding some good, sustainable, and regenerative values in children when they are young, they grow up and they live those sustainable values,” he said.

One part of his education job he loved was seeing how engaged children are with waste issues, and in some cases he felt he was learning from the children themselves. He finds that they are full of ideas and solutions to some of the country’s waste issues and problem solve them on the go, even if the ideas are already out there. Such as?

“One group thought it would be a good idea to put a cover over landfills to try and trap some of the emissions they create,” he said. “This is already happening with gas-capture in landfills. Others talked about countries where their waste is burnt. They’ve got the inkling of the idea of energy from waste; taking residual waste and burning it to generate energy that feeds back into the grid. All of these ideas are around and percolating. I found it so inspiring.

“I would like to see the next generation of children growing up seeing waste like single-use plastics and coffee cups as things that you don’t need to use. Hopefully they will question why you would use something that is not recyclable or reusable that is going to end up wasted in a landfill.”

Snedden is an optimist and cites the NSW 20 Year Waste Strategy as something that is providing some much needed direction for the industry.

“Along with the 20 Year Waste Strategy came a plan to phase out single-use plastics. Once that comes into action, there will be plans in 12 months to get start getting rid of things like plastic straws and coffee cups – to be able to phase them out and replace them with some sustainable alternatives is a positive.”

The other thing that Snedden is passionate about is organics and food waste. He said there has been some direction given around FOGO (Food Organics Garden Organics) over the next decade, with NSW councils providing residents with a source-separated organics recycling service.

“Currently, the average is almost half of the red rubbish bin being made up of organic waste, which when it goes to landfill generates methane,” he said. “It’s great to see some real action being taken on organics. It is being turned into a compost product and can be used to regenerate our soils. It is also a good example of creating a circular economy.”

Snedden is in his career for the long haul and is excited as to where it is headed with his new role at Clean-Up Australia. He said there are lots of people within the industry who say they never really intended to be in the waste sector, but fell into it, yet are intent on sticking around.

“It is a rewarding career because it is a such a varied industry,” he said. “There are so many different roles you can do from an education perspective. You can be working in a school and with communities all across NSW and country – in cities, in metro areas, in regional areas as well. There are so many roles in the waste industry that focus on education and resource recovery working with business, local councils, and NGOs – it is fascinating.”

Snedden said most people find their niche, which sets their passion alight for the industry.

“You can get some incredible results from your work, especially when you work on establishing new waste avoidance and recycling projects, or diverting waste from landfill,” he said. “You have real tangible results where you can see that the work you have done means that all that food waste is being composted and used again. There are some moments of real joy.”