Renewed and improved: AWRE 2022

The AWRE 2022 show floor

The Australasian Waste and Recycling Expo returned for 2022 with a renewed sense of purpose and optimism.

As with so many major events across the globe, the Australasian Waste and Recycling Expo (AWRE) has spent the past two years in unwelcome limbo.

When Product Manager Sofie Teh took the reins of AWRE for 2022, she wasn’t sure what to expect when the doors of Sydney’s International Convention and Exhibition Centre (ICC) swung open.

“The last in-person AWRE was in 2019, so we had no real sense of the expectations,” Sofie says. “But once we saw how ready everybody in the industry was, and how good the feedback was, it was all very encouraging.”

As the crowds filed through the ICC’s doors on 24 August, it became clear that the industry was primed to re-engage, network, and explore the latest developments in the pursuit of waste reduction and a circular economy.

Sofie Teh, Product Manager, AWRE.
Sofie Teh, Product Manager, AWRE.

A new Summit

One of the centrepieces of 2022’s revamped AWRE was the new Resource Recovery Summit – co-hosted by the National Waste and Recycling Industry Council (NWRIC) and the Waste Contractors and Recyclers Association of NSW (WCRA). The Summit gathered industry experts and decision makers to discuss approaches to meeting the National Waste Policy Action Plan’s target of 80 per cent average resource recovery rate by 2030.

New South Wales Environment Protection Authority (EPA) Chief Executive Officer Tony Chappel delivered the Summit’s opening address, setting an optimistic tone for the event.

Sofie says although just three weeks into the role, Tony’s enthusiasm for collaboration and change was clear. He acknowledged that while recent policy developments such as single-use plastic bans are positive, they are “just the tip of the iceberg” in terms of what’s required for Australia to reach the 80 per cent target.

She says Tony’s address was well received by many industry veterans, buoyed by his commitment to transparency, collaboration, and honesty between government and industry.

“I think they were encouraged to hear that the EPA would be open, engaged and supportive under Tony’s guidance,” Sofie says.

The Summit’s three streams – municipal solid waste, commercial and industrial, and construction and demolition – all generated valuable insight and discussion, as a who’s who of Australian waste experts took the stage.

Panels featured a range of speakers from the waste management and resource recovery sector, the construction industry, and consultancy, with local government also well represented. Sofie says the panels broached some challenging topics with respect and enthusiasm, keeping the sold-out audience engaged throughout the sessions.

“The feedback was really positive,” she says. “It was intimate enough that it gave the audience the opportunity to speak directly with the experts, as well as business leaders from major waste management companies such as Veolia, Bingo Industries, and Remondis. We saw a lot of fantastic discussion going on between sessions, and that carried over onto the show floor afterwards too.

“We were overall very pleased with the response, and we’re already working on ways to build on that for 2023 and beyond.”

Tony Chappel, New South Wales EPA CEO.
Tony Chappel, New South Wales EPA CEO.

A positive energy

The good vibes from the successful Summit carried over to the bustling show floor, and a regularly packed-out Seminar Program.

“The attendance was amazing for all sessions,” Sofie says. “Every time I popped into one of the theatres, there were people standing up at the back because the seats were all taken and standing room was completely full.”

As well as a varied roster of exhibitors, the show floor featured specialised zones, both new and returning.

The Australian Organics Recycling Association (AORA) brought back its Organics Zone, offering a dedicated exhibition space for member organisations. This offered a place for organics-focused delegates to gather and make connections.

The newly introduced Innovation Zone provided a space dedicated to fresh ideas and technology for the sector – from smart bin technology to modular compost solutions – something Sofie says resonated with the crowds.

“These newer start-ups all brought a really good energy, and this community is very engaged and excited about their solutions. It provided a good balance with the other established brands on the show floor. These innovators are keen to see their ideas get out there, and they know it’s going to make a difference.”

The Innovations Pitch Fest on day two gave these Innovation Zone exhibitors an opportunity to present their solutions for discussion at one of the seminar theatres.

“They could do a short pitch or presentation and field questions from the audience,” Sofie says. “That’s something we’d like to develop further next year, because it’s a great platform for this driven community of innovators to get industry feedback, and connect with people who can help progress their solutions.”

The Innovation Zone at AWRE 2022.
The Innovation Zone provided a dedicated space for new ideas.

AWRE, but with less W

One area of focus for AWRE 2022 was a reduction of the waste generated by the exhibition itself. Large events and responsible waste management have historically found themselves at odds, which is why AWRE brought back its “Strive for Five” campaign – which set a target of just five per cent of the event’s waste sent to landfill.

Balancing the smooth operation of an exhibition while trying to practice what it preaches is a multi-faceted challenge, but Sofie says there’s no better event to implement such measures than AWRE.

“Working with the ICC Sydney – they’re very conscious about everything they put out on the exhibition floor,” Sofie says. “Catering used either biodegradable material or reusable crockery, and we encouraged people to bring reusable coffee cups and use their own water bottles at our refill stations.”

AWRE provided contactless water refill stations around the exhibition floor, which supplied 282 litres of water during the two days – the equivalent of 470 600-millilitre plastic bottles.

Exhibitors were encouraged to only provide collateral that was reusable, and to avoid single-use items. Dedicated solutions were provided for each of the different waste streams, and even name badges were collected for reuse or recycling at the conclusion of the show.

“As for our signage and operational set-up, we use panels and frames that are reusable, or at the very least recyclable,” Sofie says.

“In the past, big events like this have been quite wasteful. There’s always more work to be done, but we’re making big steps in the right direction – and we’re never going to be short on feedback at an expo like AWRE.”

Sofie says each year the team will be able to build on feedback from exhibitors and delegates, and will keep exploring ways to make the exhibition more sustainable.

“We’re already very excited for next year,” Sofie says.

“We look forward to providing more opportunities to facilitate important conversations, help people make better connections in the industry, and be a place where these can turn into meaningful actions and solutions for the waste and recycling industry.”

AWRE will return to the ICC Sydney on 26-27 July 2023.

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