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Our future success is Australia’s future success: WRIQ

Newly appointed Waste Recycling Industry Association Queensland CEO Mark Smith discusses the role of the workforce and upcoming leaders in shaping solutions for a sustainable future.

Long before the COVID-19 pandemic, government’s relationship with the waste, recycling and circular economy sector was shifting.

Now more than ever, the waste and recycling industry is in the headlines due to a loss of public confidence, regulatory failures and a changing landscape regarding what needs to be done with waste and post-consumer materials.   

This attention is not specific to Australia, but rather highlights an international shift, as the global economy reconciles growth, consumption and management of waste and post-consumer materials in a new geopolitical landscape.

“What I think a lot of policy makers don’t acknowledge enough is that we are all part of the waste and recycling system – every person and every business,” Waste Recycling Industry Association Queensland (WRIQ) CEO, Mark Smith says.

Australia’s interconnected waste and recycling system is managing millions of tonnes of material annually and is set for rapid expansion in the wake of landmark legislation by the Federal Government.

In late October, the Recycling and Waste Reduction Bill 2020 was passed in the House of Representatives, signalling a paradigm shift that will boost recovery rates and support the creation of 10,000 new jobs over the next 10 years.

“Global markets for environmental goods and services remains essential to limiting our environmental impacts,” Smith says.

“It is important for Australia to understand our role in the global market and in our region, as we begin to consider implications of waste export bans and an increased discussion on sovereign capabilities to manage our own waste.”

The global waste and recycling sector is set to double in the next five to 10 years, which according to Smith, presents exciting opportunities for Australia’s industry and economy, including the tertiary sector.

“Australia is well placed to build a reputation of innovation and excellence that supports the waste and recycling needs of our region. These needs aren’t just the physical needs of waste management,” Smith explains.

Furthermore, he acknowledges the work of the Federal Government in taking bold steps to bring investments back into local markets through the incoming export ban – starting 1 July, as well as the millions of dollars being spent nationally to build the infrastructure needs of the sector.

“It’s great to see to the focus and attention our sector is receiving from governments nationally. But it is important to note that this infrastructure investment needs to be coupled with additional market interventions,” Smith says.

These include buyback programs to support sustained demand and fostering an environment that supports business to develop new services and products.

Additionally, Smith highlights the current gap in focusing on policies that encourage the expansion of the sector and its dynamic workforce.

“We know that infrastructure and technology is important in creating a safe, sustainable and efficient sector. But the industry does a lot more than just run recycling machines,” he says.

“We employ scientists, engineers, trainers and drivers, communication and engagement teams, designers and manufactures. The list goes on.

“Businesses around the country aren’t just investing in trucks and sites that collect and process our waste, but also making substantial investments in people.”

The waste and resource recovery sector should be proud of the diverse make up of its employee base, Smith says, as well as the opportunities it provides to a wide range of Australians.

Many workplaces have seen major disruption due to the COVID-19 pandemic, however, a constant has been the need to maintain waste and recycling services to the community, hospitals and other essential services.

According to Smith, the sector isn’t going anywhere and is set for rapid growth.

“We don’t stop. In fact, we are getting bigger. A simple review of government investment shows hundreds of millions of dollars being allocated to the sector,” he says.

“We need to remember that government only invest about five per cent into the sector, so billions more is invested by private operators. That money goes into sites, into machines, into technology and into people.

“Recognising the future potential of our industry, I’m very excited to launch new programs that aim to engage future leaders of our industry and establish formal partnerships with Australia’s tertiary sector.”


The waste, recycling and circular economy industry supports a skilled and diverse workforce that can provide employment opportunities for Australians of all skill and ability levels.

Working with the tertiary sector, WRIQ is excited to launch a national internship program that provides waste, recycling and circular economy organisations, including suppliers and partners to the industry, with access to junior talent.

“Gone are the days when interns were in charge of the morning coffee run and menial jobs no one else wanted to do,” Smith says.

According to a recent NACE survey, only eight per cent of intern tasks involved clerical or non-essential work responsibilities, with the other 92 per cent spent on higher-level tasks like data analysis, problem-solving and logistics.

“A quality intern can make real contributions to productivity now, helping your full-time staff avoid becoming overburdened by side projects, and freeing them up to accomplish more creative tasks or tasks that require high-level expertise,” Smith says.

He adds that interns bring more to the table than just an extra set of hands.

“Especially in today’s modular teams of five to 15 employees, new people bring novel perspectives that can break up the status quo, as well as specialised strengths and skill sets. Include interns in brainstorming sessions to maximise this benefit,” Smith says.

Additionally, he notes that interns can possess cutting-edge strategies, techniques and technology in their field.

“Accessing interns gives you direct access to recent developments. As much as your interns will learn from you, you can also learn from them,” he says.

“Similarly, new interns are typically social media savvy. A recent survey from the Pew Research Centre showed that in the 18-24 demographic, around 75 per cent use Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat. Not only that, they’re informed about current events, popular culture and the best social media trends.”

The program will also foster leadership skills in current employees, with mentorship providing great training for staff that will eventually occupy management positions.

“With interns on board, employees also have a lighter workload, more time for creative or advanced projects, and the opportunity to build confidence and leadership by guiding others,” Smith says.

“For the next three months, this program is open specially to WRIQ and its members, but will expanded nationally early in 2021.

“Anyone interested in the program should contact me directly at”


Working in parallel with WRIQ’s internship program is Future Leaders, the association’s unique mentorship program that provides hands on experience and tangible benefits for mentors, mentees and Queensland’s community and businesses.

The program is tailored around WRIQ’s key objectives: to promote thoughtful leadership, services and education to all its stakeholders, while advocating industry issues with the intent of achieving social, environmental and economically sustainable outcomes.

The 2021 program will provide participants with an increased awareness of the key challenges impacting the future workforce, up-skilling them to problem solve and create solutions for a shared future.

“We know our workforce along with the broader economy is changing. We wanted to create a program that supports people to capitalise on the opportunities of this change and participation in our future leader program will enable that,” Smith says.

Through the program, aspiring professionals within Queensland (and remote access for those outside Queensland) who want to learn more about the future workforce and circular economy will be matched with experienced and thoughtful senior leaders.

The mentees will also undergo an extensive program of webinars, experiences, networking events and projects to build their credentials in this space.

“These experiences will also enhance their understanding of the attributes of the future leaders in this industry and embed human connection, mental health and broader wellbeing as core leadership values. You will not find another leadership program like this,” Smith says.

Furthermore, he explains that the Future Leaders program will help participants move forward with a circular economy approach to waste and resource recovery, build partnerships across community, business and government and rebuild business based on the triple bottom line.

It will also help participants development the skills needed to be resilient through the challenges our collective future holds.

For mentors, Smith says the program will provide the opportunity for personal reflection, growth and the sharpening of experienced interpersonal and communications skills.

“The Future Leaders mentor position provides a platform that will allow you to give back to your industry, our industry and Queensland, by sharing your skills and experience with the next generation of leaders, while gaining further insight and knowledge of the industry to expand on concurrent ideas,” Smith says.

“Mentors will have the opportunity to influence projects aligning to their own industry or business areas along a waste, recycling or circular economy theme and continue to grow your own professional network.”

For more information contact Mark Smith at or click here

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