Lifting the bar

Waste Management Review speaks to Waste Management and Resource Recovery Association of Australia CEO Gayle Sloan on her experiences leading the association.

With more than two years under her belt, Gayle Sloan, CEO of the Waste Management and Resource Recovery Association of Australia (WMRR), has taken a leading role in putting waste management and resource recovery on the radar of governments as an essential service.

From appearances on the ABC’s War on Waste to Q&A, as WMRR CEO, Gayle continues to boost the profile of the sector with the general public, upstream stakeholders and governments, extolling the virtues of recycled content and encouraging governments to use more of it. As the national peak body for the landfill, recycling and resource recovery sectors, including waste to energy, WMRR’s broad church of membership has enabled the association to provide an unrivalled level of support to its members on advocacy, information and training, conferences and networking events, and a range of other areas.

Gayle’s procurement and government experience has served her well in the role, but she tells Waste Management Review that it was waste management’s interesting policy and operational impact that drew her to the sector, with this journey beginning in 2002. 

“My first encounter was with the City of Sydney where I was responsible for both procurement as well as policy. I did my first collections and processing tender there,” she says.

She says while working in crime prevention, she was also fascinated by the link between an increased sense of personal safety and pride of place.

“Waste management, along with street cleaning and graffiti removal, are fundamental to councils achieving this sense of safety, pride and connectedness,” she says. 

Over the years, Gayle worked for a number of councils before joining Visy in 2013 in a contracts manager role where she witnessed firsthand the power of supply chains in creating jobs and investment.  

“In some ways without realising it, all roads have led me to WMRR, from working in NSW Parliament for ministers, state government, councils and then industry itself [at Visy]. What is evident to me is that there isn’t a single obvious career path to entering our essential industry,” she says. 

Gayle joined WMRR at the end of 2016, which until the beginning of 2019 was known as the Waste Management Association of Australia. The name was changed earlier this year to reflect the needs of its diverse and growing membership and acknowledge the ever-increasing participation by materials recovery facilities, reprocessors and remanufacturers.

When it comes to the principles of effective leadership, Gayle says that the ability to collaborate with others and the capacity to listen and know when to let others lead is important. It’s not necessarily about being the smartest person in the room, she says, but a thirst for knowledge.

“It is also important to have passion and energy for what you do, particularly when working with other people.”

As the industry continues to face challenging times with China’s ban on recyclables, among other domestic issues, Gayle says she is most proud of the collective efforts by all members and the industry which have remained positive and constructive. 

“I am so proud that WMRR is firmly on the political and policy landscape and recognised as the go-to by governments across Australia due to our willingness to get involved and be constructive,” she says. 

“Having the ear of our ministers and a seat at the table has allowed WMRR to influence key policy and regulatory settings, cementing our role as the peak body for our essential industry.” 

Looking ahead, Gayle says more work needs to be done, particularly by federal and state governments, to fully recognise waste and resource recovery as an essential industry. 

“This means having improved, consistent and appropriate planning pathways and support for waste, resource recovery and remanufacturing facilities across Australia.

“We need greater regulatory certainty that supports the waste management hierarchy and its objectives so that we prevent a repeat of the recent revocation of mixed waste organic outputs in NSW.”  

She says that industry has demonstrated its enthusiasm and commitment to building capacity, but asks how can the sector move forward sustainably if business and government continue to import recycled content?

“The Federal Government needs to step up and play a more active role, [by] leading and funding national programs, given Australia really is one large common market and it needs to be active in developing a national circular economy in Australia. 

“Here’s an idea – let’s start with a ‘Buy Australian recycled content’ campaign and a genuine product stewardship scheme for packaging material.”

To innovate effectively, Gayle says that industry requires investment – not just capital, but human resources and time.

“However, any investment requires long-term certainty and so an important first step is for all levels of government to collaborate and develop onshore markets.” 

She says the other gap that has deterred innovation is the lack of a level playing field, arguing the lack of commonality in regulation and policy is a significant challenge to industry. 

“There needs to be minimum standards for jurisdictions to abide by and harmonisation of regulations and policies such as landfill levies, reinvestment of these levies, resource recovery exemptions and orders, to name a few.”

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