Waste goals achievable for regional and city councils

Growing up north-west of Melbourne on a farm in the Macedon Ranges was idyllic for a young Raymond Trevorah, but not without its challenges. Having a learning difficulty didn’t stop Trevorah from realising his potential. Being severely dyslexic might have been a roadblock to many careers in science-based industries, but Trevorah realised early on that while language wasn’t his strongest suit, science and maths were. So strong that he ended up with a Bachelor of Environmental Engineering with Honours from RMIT University and then went on to earn a PhD. Was it environmental engineering that piqued his interest in the waste industry? Not quite.

“While [the course matter] didn’t initially focus on waste and resource recovery, I ended up meeting my PhD supervisor Dr Maazuza Othman who brought me in to work on a project as a research officer in my third year during the holidays,” he said. “We worked on investigating the treatment of forestry and timber waste for use in anaerobic digestion.

“My PhD was on the biorefining of lignocellulosic waste; basically, how we can process timber and forestry waste into renewable fuels and chemicals.”

Once completed, it was on to the workforce and a return to familiar surrounds. 

“After my PhD, I went into local government,” he said. “I went and worked for the Macedon Ranges Regional Council where I did a lot of the planning and launched its kerbside glass service, as well as the introduction of the FOGO service and transition to fortnightly general waste. After doing that for a couple of years, I got picked up to run the waste facilities for Bathurst Regional Council.”

During his time at both councils, Trevorah was looking after the recycling of waste. He got a taste for the circular economy and found there was huge potential to progress circular waste management for regional Australia.

“We did the trials of the kerbside bin glass collection,” he said. “We provided 600 homes with kerbside glass collection, which was a six-month trial. Following the trial’s success, the council introduced the kerbside glass waste bin to all households within the shire. 

“The glass was processed locally within central Victoria, which saved on haulage and kept the local circular economy growing.”

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It was during his time at Bathurst that Trevorah did a project on textile recycling. 

He set up a community drop off point whereby he was working in tandem with Textile Recyclers Australia. 

“Textiles are one of the least recyclable streams in Australia,” he said. “During COVID we had many charities overwhelmed with clothing from households cleaning out. There are 23kg of textiles per person going into landfill each year. We were able to get a successful textile recycling program up and running and got good buy-in from the local community.”

The council worked with local charities in the region to make sure the textiles were being recycled ethically. There was an issue in 2021 where there were a lot of materials getting baled instead of recycled. An ABC Foreign Correspondent investigation showed that a lot of the clothes were being sent to Africa where they were being landfilled. By working with companies like Textile Recyclers Australia, the council was able to ensure the ethical and sustainable management of those wastes. 

Near the end of 2021, Trevorah decided for a change in scenery and left to work for SMEC. His current role is that of a senior environmental engineer, with a focus on developing SMEC’s circular economy and resource recovery capabilities. 

“SMEC is growing its expertise in the circular economy and organic waste sectors. Part of my role is to help further grow SMEC’s capabilities to deliver on projects in these areas; to help grow that side of the business,” he said. “As a country, we have targeted 80 per cent diversion from landfill by the end of the decade. As the nation begins this transition, I am working with local recyclers to help grow and adapt to help us reach these targets while adapting to the changing legislative landscape.”

And what differences does he see working for the private sector instead of local government? For a start, he likes the wider scope of projects offered by SMEC. 

“Working in council was really good to drive projects through to completion and be around the whole time,” he said. “Unfortunately, you deal with a smaller scope. For example, I was able to help my local community go from 40 per cent diversion up to the high 60s during my time at Macedon.

“While in the new role, I am now helping the national team at SMEC to help drive national projects. It’s nice to help with change not just in my community but across Australia.”

While he loved working for councils – and the experiences those opportunities gave him – he still believes they can do better at selling the message that needs to be delivered. 

“One thing that became clear to me – and I came from a very science-focused and engineering background into local government – is the need for investment and drive for education within the communities,” Trevorah said. “That has become incredibly clear now that it has been overlooked for far too long.”

It has also become increasingly clear that good engagement and education within communities has a significant role to play in councils achieving good outcomes. 

“It would be great if there was more push for support for councils, especially in regional areas, to have an allocation of resources,” he said. “I know many metropolitan areas and some regional areas have put in significant resources but there are still some regions that are lagging. That just falls further when you look out at more regional Australia. With councils now looking to either change their general waste service and introduce kerbside FOGO, they are often fearful of backlash, but if you design and plan on the best evidence, engage in the community, you can have meaningful results, is what I would like to say.”

What about the future? What is his long-term goal? 

“What I want to achieve in my career is help Australia transition through to a circular economy. But not just a city focus,” he said. “As a person who grew up in the country and worked in the regions I want to help – particularly regional community and areas – to develop a functional circular economy within their area. That is what my new role provides me the opportunity to do.”

His goal is to be a technical expert in the field. When he worked for the councils, he realised he couldn’t progress any further as a technical expert. The only way he could progress was in management.

“I see myself as a good technical resource that can help drive good data capture and analysis,” he said. “Good data drives good decisions and I want to work more in that space. I want to help drive Australia to develop strong regional circular economies.

“I want to help us reach those ambitious targets of 80 per cent diversion, especially in some of those regional communities where there are a lot of areas that need help. There are a lot of areas where you are looking at 20 per cent to 30 per cent of diversion because of lack of resources. I want to be involved in coming up with the novel and innovative solutions that will help Australia reach its recycling and resource recovery goals.”