Leading with less: Waste 2021

Waste Management Review speaks with mememe productions’ Cate McQuillen about effective community engagement ahead of her Waste 2021 keynote address. 

While mememe productions is perhaps best known as the home of dirtgirlworld and Get Grubby TV, Creative Producer and Owner Cate McQuillen characterises its mission as one of community engagement and conversation building. 

Driven by a belief that positive, narrative led content can achieve wider commitment to sustainable actions and practices, McQuillen and her co-creator Hewey Eustace have the “audacity” to believe they can influence a generation to tackle waste and climate change head-on. 

“We’ve created a positive and engaged story world that includes casting children in a special celebrating their relationships with nature and fully demonstrating just how fun getting grubby can be,” McQuillen says. 

In addition to creating eco-driven content, the passionate mememe team’s day-to-day life is centred around on-the-ground work with families and communities. 

“Whether it’s a documentary series with the Indigenous Rangers across the top end about biosecurity, working with Torres Strait Islanders to set up a community farm, or working in early childhood education with our sustainability curriculum, we adore what’s happening in real life – that’s what really excites us,” McQuillen says.  

This May, McQuillen is set to present a keynote address at the Waste 2021 Conference at Coffs Harbour’s Opal Cove Resort. 

Celebrating 25 years, the Coffs Harbour Waste Conference is the leading conference for the waste management industry in Australia. 

Historically the conference has attracted 650 delegates both nationally and internationally, though this year the capacity will be reduced to comply with COVID regulations and restrictions, with delegates to be widely spread across Australia. 

Targeted at anyone who works in or has an interest in waste management issues, the conference is particularly relevant to local government.

Waste 2021 will run as a hybrid event, featuring both face-to-face and online attendance options. 

Attendees will hear from leading waste management professionals on the latest developments in the industry, be able to visit a vast array of exhibitions, and have the opportunity to network with other waste experts.

“I just love this conference. We had to take a year off in 2020, so it will be nice to get together and remind each other of the importance of what we do – that we are changing the world,” McQuillen says. 

McQuillen’s keynote will explore the nature of waste, with a particular emphasis on how industry can better formulate its messaging to communicate effectively with the wider community. 

“It’s not about us sitting together at a conference discussing: why is waste a problem? We know why,” she says. 

“We need to focus on how we communicate that to people. We can call them consumers or all kinds of things, but they’re people – it’s our families and friends. How do we speak to them?” 

As a conference geared towards local government, McQuillen notes a significant shift from councils in the last eight years. 

“It’s moving from a pragmatic, this going into this bin conversation, into an understanding that behavioural change starts with love,” she says. 

Another area of focus for McQuillen’s keynote will be the role of reduction, and its often-overlooked significance in the reduce, reuse, recycle narrative. 

“It’s not just about which bin the material goes in and recycling, but did you buy it in the first place? That’s a conversation we need to be having with the community – leading with less and understanding that having less is not losing,” McQuillen says. 

“The words we choose to communicate this messaging is important. I want to talk about the lexicon of change and how we can use powerful words that help people understand that less is winning.” 

McQuillen adds that while waste practices and their effect on the climate may have been an afterthought in the past, or not acknowledged at all, the conversation is shifting. 

“There are many reasons people look at the waste conversation. They look at it for health, they look at it for financial reasons such as keeping levies down, they look at it in the context of the circular economy and capturing resources,” she says. 

“Or they understand that when it comes to food waste and recycling, the way we make waste is deeply connected to the story of how we grow a climate safe future. 

“Getting our waste right gets our climate right. 

“That’s what makes this a place where I really want to stand and have a conversation.”

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