With the move towards greater source separation and a circular economy, the role of clear and consistent education is now more important than ever, Glenn Eales of EnviroCom explains.
Waste treatment and handling has undergone a fundamental shift in recent years. Once buried and forgotten – both physically and psychologically – landfill alone is becoming an increasingly less attractive option. A greater focus on waste diversion, resource value and capacity shortages has highlighted the need for waste management reform.
While the rapid change might seem overwhelming to some, Glenn Eales, EnviroCom Australia’s General Manager, views the shifting sector as one full of untapped environmental potential. Taking full advantage of that potential, however, requires clear and consistent messaging directed at where it will have the greatest effect. This comprises an understanding of contamination and reprocessing.
To that end, without clear and consistent messaging, Glenn says that government’s efforts to raise resource recovery rates could fall short.
Delivering education, research and training services to the public and private sectors since 1998, EnviroCom works to foster community engagement through quality data collection and assessment, and the development of strategic waste and behaviour change plans. Glenn, who has served as General Manager for just over a year, has been with the company since its inception.
“While I’ve practically spent my whole career at EnviroCom, I did spend some time with Queensland National Parks early on, and worked as a geotechnical consultant. The role was all about understanding the physical interactions of new and existing infrastructure assets with the Earth, and developing strategies in response,” Glenn says.
“My already existing passion for the environment was paired with a passion for education in my time leading kids education activities in Queensland National Parks. That is something I took with me when I joined EnviroCom as a researcher and educator in 1998. I haven’t looked back since.”
Serving under various titles in his 22 years at the company, Glenn has been directly involved in leading research, education and training programs on behalf of multiple waste industry sectors and levels of government. Drawing on that experience, he describes recent waste industry changes, such as China’s National Sword Policy, as both exciting and challenging for waste educators and the industry.
“The success of waste related polices and legislation, at local, state and national levels, is often reliant on the waste generation and disposal behaviour practices in local communities – whether it be individuals, families, businesses or companies,” he says.
Glenn says that with greater potential for source separation, the emergence of participation opportunities in the circular economy and individual responsibility on the rise, now, maybe more than ever, education should play a pivotal role in all sectors of the waste industry.
“The power and reach of strategic education designed to influence waste related user behaviours cannot be underestimated,” Glenn says.
To maximise benefits in the current waste environment, Glenn says it’s vital that councils ensure communities understand both the new and the existing systems and the personal responsibilities and opportunities to achieve sustainability. This can be achieved, he adds, through data collection, waste assessments and targeted educational campaigns.
“There is still a lot of confusion in Australian communities about recycling waste in all its forms, so the role of educators is to focus on user behaviours, develop strategies to assist in improving these behaviours and to provide feedback to the community,” Glenn says.
“As we embrace new technology and become smarter about waste, we need to communicate these changes clearly, consistently and effectively.”
As an example of eliminating confusion, Glenn highlights Moyne, Corangamite and Southern Grampians Shire Councils in Victoria’s South-West. According to Glenn, EnviroCom were engaged by the regional councils in 2018, with the task of developing a food waste diversion business case.
He adds that the regions food waste focus ties into the wider waste management landscape, with mitigating the effects of food waste in landfill critical to addressing climate change.
“Through historical composition analysis, the council identified that their FOGO bins, the primary mechanism for food waste diversion, were chiefly being used for green waste – with the majority of food waste still presenting in red-lidded general waste bins” Glenn says.
Glenn says this was largely the result of misconceptions around what can and cannot be placed in individual bins.
To address relative FOGO underperformance, EnviroCom took a behaviour change approach. Adopting principles of community based social marketing, Glenn says the project was delivered through multiple phases including research, intervention and review and recommendations.
Over a long weekend in 2018 for instance, Moyne Council opened the region’s famous Port Fairy Dashshund Dash with a community bin race, attended by over 3500 people. While ‘Formula FOGO’ took a lighter approach than much of EnviroCom’s work, Glenn says it was a success and got the community talking and engaged.
“Council were drawing on the idea that sustainable behaviour change is most effective when it involves direct contact with people and is carried out at the community level,” he explains.
“It’s not always about presenting people with hard data and statistics or scaring them with dire environmental predictions. Sometimes the best approach to behavioural change is fostering a fun environment and a sense of community belonging, which in turn translates to community responsibility.”
As far as Glenn is concerned, EnviroCom’s capacity to deliver best practice and progressive waste education – that keeps pace with the changing waste landscape – is testament to the capabilities of its committed and experienced team.
“At EnviroCom, management is privileged to work with a team of driven and passionate environmental professionals who collectively strive for continual growth, development and improvement in the waste education and training space,” he says.
The team of 26 environmental professionals have a diverse set of backgrounds, Glenn explains, in areas such as environmental education, teaching, data management and analysis, waste assessments and waste monitoring, citizen science, marketing, design and communications. He adds that for EnviroCom’s environmental consultants, the capacity to influence change is what makes the job rewarding.
“We are always discovering new ways to improve on our projects, and work with our clients and the community. Our team has such an incredible variety of skills – everyone has something different to bring to the table,” Glenn says.
EDUCATION FOR THE MASSES
With offices in Brisbane, the Sunshine Coast, Sydney, Orange, the ACT and Melbourne, EnviroCom provide a range of bespoke waste education, research and training services to a diverse range of clients nationwide.
Glenn notes that EnviroCom has been responsible for Logan City Council’s annual Waste Education Strategy since 1995.
The program is designed to develop better understandings of the city’s changing demographics to inform how audiences are targeted. It is coordinated on behalf of the Queensland council by Senior EnviroCom Consultant Alix Baltais.
“We have built an understanding of the Logan community’s waste generation and disposal behaviours over time through surveys, waste assessments, workshops and bin inspections. This works to create a clearer picture of existing waste related knowledge, attitudes and behaviours,” Glenn says.
“That knowledge and understanding is then used to develop and deliver targeted educational interventions that address community needs and expectations, while also achieving positive outcomes for council.”
Examples of EnviroCom’s work with Logan include mapping multi-unit dwelling resident’s disposal behaviours and engaging children in recycling through Logan City’s answer to the ‘Waste Smart Kindy’ program.
Glenn explains that EnviroCom have conducted quarterly audits on Logan City Council’s kerbside recycling stream since November 2015, with results confirming a very stubborn rate of contamination.
“The latest results from November 2019, however, showed a noticeable fall in contamination levels for the first time – illustrating the success of our approach,” he says.
Shifting to another issue of focus, Glenn says EnviroCom has delivered a successful targeted beach litter and marine debris education and community engagement campaign in partnership with Sunshine Coast Council since 2016. He says the multifaceted campaign was focused on supporting the community to generate important scientific data.
“This approach really worked, as people in the community, already involved in cleaning up their local beaches, now had the opportunity to provide data directly into the national marine debris database.”
The campaign also attracted a host of additional participants at clean up days and events.
“For all participants, new and existing, it’s the knowledge that they are proactively involved in the collection of important data that is being used by a range of researchers to shape future policies and responses to marine debris that drives their involvement,” he says.
Looking to the future, EnviroCom hopes to work with more councils and industry bodies to develop innovative and forward-thinking campaigns. As industry progresses, Glenn recognises that approaches to waste education will need to evolve alongside it.
“At EnviroCom, our team has a collective focus on collaboration and innovation to achieve positive project outcomes,” Glenn says.
“That said, we are also very aware that systems will continue to change, with new technology likely to provide waste solutions we haven’t yet thought of. The need for waste education will never disappear.”