Work to be done

Mike Ritchie, MRA Consulting

Mike Ritchie from Sydney-based consulting firm MRA reflects on the importance of solid groundwork in the political realm to facilitate real change in waste management. 

Our waste problems are urgent. Waste is pouring out of the economy at a compound average growth rate of 6.3 per cent, and waste volumes double every 12 years. To tackle the issue, most Australian States and Territories have set ambitious recycling targets for 2020/21.

For Municipal Solid Waste (MSW), the diversion target is generally 65 to 70 per cent, except in the ACT where it’s 85 per cent. For commercial & industrial (C&I) waste, the target is higher still – typically ranging from 70 to 80 per cent. Except, again, for the ACT, where it’s 85 per cent. The highest targets, meanwhile,
are reserved for construction and demolition (C&D) waste, with most state targets ranging from 75 to 85 per cent.

These are big numbers, and it’s still a long way to go until we reach them – particularly for MSW, where new data shows that diversion rates need to increase by about 50 per cent to stay on track. But there is no alternative: The work we need to do is important and structural, even though it can be unexciting. It’s work that is unlikely to capture the public’s imagination in the same way as single use battery, coffee cups, CDs or light bulbs might be able to.

 Some say that the scheme’s that get people’s attention, that win environment awards, are worth every cent because they attract media attention and money, as well as political capital. They connect people to waste problems.
But the problem is that money and political capital are not unlimited. Connecting people to waste problems is fine, but it doesn’t build infrastructure or set realistic market prices. What you spend on one project is not available to another. So, can we really afford ‘puff projects’?

Making sustainability child’s play

A Melbourne-based company is combining puppet-making and trash to share the ‘reduce, reuse and recycle’ message. 

When I was young, my ambition was to be one of the people who made a difference in this world. My hope is to leave the world a little better for having been there.”

While Jim Henson’s famous saying may reflect a common-enough sentiment, but the incremental betterment of the world and humanity doesn’t usually cause puppets to spring to mind. For one Melbourne-based company, however, that is exactly what is entailed within its efforts to make the world a better place.

Jhess Knight worked within the local puppetry industry for the past five years before realising the joys of using recycled or reused materials. Alongside her good friend, Lucy Hedt, she has since developed the Trash Puppets initiative, which combines entertainment with education in the sustainability space.

“During my Master’s at the London School of Puppetry, we were encouraged to create mock-ups of our puppets. Quick and rough, a process that enabled us to see the design of our puppet and what the challenges might be,” explains Jhess. “Usually thrown together with basic materials such as newspaper or cardboard, I often found myself falling in love. Their simplicity was incredibly charming and made them even more magical when they came to life.”

The process of making Trash Puppets thus came about organically, and Jhess found the process to be therapeutic in its own right. “I knew this was something I wanted to share,” she says.

After having the idea suggested by a friend who works as a schoolteacher, Jhess and Lucy have gone on to create a profitable business in teaching kids to make puppets from rubbish – but it also has applications beyond the classroom.

To read more, see page 36 of Issue 10. 

Tying up loose ends

A New South Wales initiative is looking at how to recycle thousands of tonnes of textile waste – potentially creating a whole new business model along the way. 

The key to creating sustainable solutions to environmental problems is to build strong business cases around them. That is the approach Tom Davies and his team at Edge Environment took when they were tasked with finding an industrial solution to divert waste from landfill through the New South Wales Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Circulate program.

By engaging 1,000 medium-to-large enterprises, Circulate aims to divert some 160,000 tonnes of waste to landfill between 2014 and 2017 and generate $21 million in additional income or savings for those involved. The program is part of the NSW EPA’s Waste Less, Recycle More initiative, which uses funds from the waste levy to drive behaviour change, infrastructure investment and innovation in new resource recovery solutions.

As a starting point for the project, Davies and his team analysed a range of NSW commercial and industrial waste audits to determine the most significant material streams coming out of the State. “We’ve been working with a lot of large corporates as part of the process and a common issue proved to be workwear,” he says – adding that large companies go through hundreds of tonnes of workwear every year. “So we started investigating textiles as a waste.”

Textile as a waste

As part of his initial research, Davies found that NSW generates about 153,000 tonnes of textile waste per year – the whole of Australia produces about 375,000 tonnes – and most of that is going directly to landfill. Of that textile waste, a massive 64 per cent is corporate workwear, a ratio too big to ignore, as Davies points out: “You need to find a starting point.

“To us, it quickly became clear that point had to be corporate workwear – it’s a huge volume of manmade bres that could be turned into new products.”

Davies points to the iconic Australia Post organisation as an example for smart bre-recycling: “Australia Post had 200 tonnes of textiles as redundant stock that it had accumulated over two years, as it’s constantly evolving its uniforms. To address the problem, they teamed up with Dunlop and turned the waste into carpet underlay.”

While highly effective, the solution was a one-off only, Davies says: “What we were looking for was a long-term, self-sustaining solution. We roughly knew the breakdown of those materials, so it was obvious it was all valuable stuff that was ending up in landfill,” he explains.

Read the full story on page 26 of Issue 10.