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Shocking introduction leads to great career choice

AS with a lot of people, having a career in the waste industry wasn’t originally in Maya Deacock’s plans when setting out her career path. Graduating with a Bachelor of Science (Hons) degree from the University of New South Wales, Deacock said that even though as a kid she had an ecological bent, the waste industry wasn’t really on her radar.

Like a lot of young graduates, once university was finished, Deacock went over to the UK for a couple of years. When she arrived back in the country she caught up with a friend who was working at waste management specialist consulting company, MRA Consulting. After a three-month internship, she had a full time job and hasn’t looked back.

“I had never really thought about working in the waste industry to be honest, apart from putting my bins out on the street,” she said. “My grandfather was very big into conservation, so I was always leaning towards that. Before I reconnected with my friend, I was applying for ecology-type scientific roles all across Sydney. When I ran into him he said, ‘we have a waste audit coming up, if you’re interested, you are welcome to come along and try your hand’.

“It was a very shocking introduction into waste because it was pretty gross. You are rummaging through tonnes of rubbish, and while it’s not very nice it certainly is an eye opener as to what people are throwing out. It is amazing the number of things that end up in a recycling bin that shouldn’t be there. Before doing that I had never really thought about what was in my bin. I started working for MRA and I loved it. MRA are committed to a more sustainable economy and that sits well with my values.”

Part of her job is with the planning team, who help developers, landowners, and lease holders to get the relevant approvals they need to move forward on a project. This is particularly important when it comes to waste management plans – whereby the team assists with waste strategies and planning for a building, as well as help them get the best outcome in terms of waste management and sustainability. It is a fulfilling job.

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“I like that I can help out people in a concrete way,” she said. “You can see the impact you are having on people. You drive down the street and you see one of the developments you worked on a DA for, and you know exactly what their waste strategy is like, such as getting everyone up to date with Green Star and all these industry standards. Even helping councils with their development control plans is an interesting aspect of the job. It is basically bringing everyone up to this great standard.”

Deacock finds that councils are generally onside when it comes to making the best of the environment. She said that they especially hold themselves to a high standard when it comes to making sure compliance is being adhered to by the various stakeholders. However, there is always room for improvement, especially when it comes to legislation and policy clarity.

“Councils always have that attitude of looking forward – ‘what is the next big environmental standard that we can reach?’,” she said. “It is important to have clear wording around policy to ensure there is no confusion about things.

“For example, we were having this conversation in the office about the energy-from-waste policy and what does and doesn’t apply and how some of it seems ambiguous. State governments need to be much clearer about what they want from councils and residents in terms of creating a sustainable or circular economy.”

On the other end of the spectrum there are people – such as some developers – without even being prompted, are trying to find the best environmental outcomes for their sites. Gone are the days of developers looking for the easiest and cheapest way to get from point A to point B on a project.

“You see it all in this line of work. For the most part, everyone is generally very compliant. They might even have their own internal standards. ESD (Environmentally Sustainable Development) is very big, and it is growing. Especially as climate change reports are coming out and it is getting a lot more focus,” said Deacock.

Does Deacock find it a fulfilling career considering she never really thought about it until that fateful run-in with a friend?

“Absolutely,” she said. “I fell into waste by chance, but I think I will be definitely staying in it as a career. I don’t see it going anywhere in terms of this industry declining or petering out. It is an essential service. Even five, 10, 15 years down the track there are going to be continual challenges coming up.”

Any advice for those that are thinking of coming into the industry? Deacock recommends getting an internship first, like she did. Doing so will give a person an excellent perspective on how the industry works. She also believes that an important part of starting out is sitting back and listening to what is being said.

“Go to as many meetings as you can and sit there and take notes,” said Deacock. “I was very lucky to attend a very early business development meeting with my boss when I was still an intern. And we are still working with that client three years later. I came into the industry with a blank slate and didn’t know anything about waste. I had the environmental background but that was it. As well as attending as many meetings as you can, go to online seminars and listen to what is being said. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. There is no such thing as a silly question, and nobody will think any less of you for asking one.

“Also, try out things. For example, I didn’t know about financial modelling before starting at MRA and you get chucked in the deep end – writing business cases and things like that. In a small company you get to work on many diverse different projects. I’ve flown to Alice Springs to help them start up a composting program. You get to put your hand up and say, ‘I’m interested, can I help out, and what can I do?’

“There is a lot to know. I am now getting to the stage where I am feeling confident about my background knowledge in waste,  but it takes time.”