The leaders of tomorrow: WRIQ’s Circular Economy Intern Program

The leaders of tomorrow: WRIQ’s Circular Economy Intern Program

Through its national internship program, WRIQ is committed to mentoring the next generation of circular economy thinkers and waste experts.

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.

To support that workforce develop, WRIQ launched a national internship program that provides waste, recycling and circular economy organisations, including suppliers and partners to the industry, with access to junior talent.

Here, Waste Management Review speaks with five organisations involved.

Tell us a little about your business and what you do?

IMPACT Community Services: Recycling is part of IMPACT Community Services, a not-for-profit organisation that each year supports more than 5000 people who may be experiencing disadvantage, poverty or exclusion from social and employment networks in the Bundaberg and Burnett regions.

Since 2001, IMPACT’s recycling arm has operated a Material Recovery Facility under contract with the Bundaberg Regional Council, where we are responsible for processing the kerbside collection of co-mingled product as well as administering a handful of other associated contracts including the processing of all the containers collected in Bundaberg’s Containers for Change Scheme.

Our recycling activities are part of a social enterprise that provides employment for up to 25 supported employees through an Australian Disability Enterprise as well as 12 FTE staff.

The Australasian Circular Textile Association: ACTA is Australasia’s first profit-for-purpose, collaborative industry peak-body formed to realise full resource efficiency for textiles to accelerate the transition to a circular textile economy, within Australia.

ACTA’s role is to aggregate data and knowledge from an expansive textile network, to support development in policy and infrastructure to close the loop on textiles nationally.

ACTA is working with the Australian Bedding Stewardship Council on the intern program. The Australian Bedding Stewardship Council is a member-based charitable organisation whose focus is on developing and implementing a cost effective, environmentally and socially beneficial product stewardship scheme for mattresses and related products.

Textiles and quilted pads from mattresses are a problem waste that the council is seeking to remove from landfill.

WestRex: WestRex specialise in the management of complex and hazardous waste, contaminated site remediation, resource recovery and organic recycling.

As a business we have focussed on building a team with a high level of technical expertise, allowing us to innovate in the more complicated/ niche areas of waste management.

SoilCyclers: SoilCyclers’ vision is to make onsite recycling business as usual for the construction, waste and mining industries.

We are a family-owned company, who screen, sieve and transform unusable site waste into reusable materials, whether it be nutrient-rich fertile soil, decontaminated product for landfill, or screening out oversize material for a project.

NuGrow: NuGrow is a Queensland based manufacturer of high-quality compost/soil conditioner products and innovative revegetation/erosion control products from organic and inorganic waste streams.

We operate from three primary locations being: Ipswich, Rockhampton and the Western Downs. NuGrow seeks to participate in the development of the circular economy through compost based recycling within Queensland and Australia.

Why did you decide to engage in the intern program?

IMPACT Community Services: For IMPACT, the intern program is an opportunity to establish a partnership with students who can get a real-world opportunity to make a difference with a not-for-profit organisation looking to commercialise its social enterprises and reduce reliance on future government or charitable support.

The Australasian Circular Textile Association: Collaborating with the Australian Bedding Stewardship Council, we combined efforts in order to engage three University students from data analytics to environmental management to assess several critical elements within textile recyclability and waste.

Having worked with interns from several Universities in the past, we have found their initiative and curiosity to learn extremely helpful as many hands make light work – particularly in an emerging sector with a great deal of information to be sought out.

WestRex: The waste industry as a whole is going through a rapid transformation, as a community we have more focus than ever before about the fate of our waste. On a national level we have committed to significant changes in the way that we manage waste and to achieve these outcomes our industry will require a huge amount of innovation!

To be successful we will need to attract the best and brightest of the next generation – by bringing interns into the industry we can demonstrate how challenging and exciting it is to work in waste.

SoilCyclers: We believe that it’s important to engage with and support university students, and provide them with the opportunity to work in real work environments, on actual projects. They’re able to put their knowledge into practice, prior to engaging in the workforce, and we think this is an important part of their studies.

Also, it’s great for our business, as it brings in new ideas and ways of doing things, which provides us with the opportunity to continuously improve.

NuGrow: After Mark Smith from WRIQ outlined the program for us, we saw it as an opportunity to further promote the circular economy with a future industry professional. When Selena came in for a meeting, she was brimming with positive attitude. We thought if she can be half this keen on job, then this will be a worthy appointment.

What was the project or activity the intern assisted with?

The Australasian Circular Textile Association: A well-constructed brief was delivered to the three students who were tasked with a Global Horizon Scan of Textile Recycling Technologies and Innovation, analysing current waste and audit data of Local State Governments Waste, and formulating a textile waste calculator to determine the volume of textiles waste between states and major companies.

The tasks were broken down between the students where they had to work together as a team because each task was interlinked to the next.

WestRex: We chose a project for our intern that was relevant to their academic experience and that would also provide the best opportunity to apply that experience in a real-world setting.

The project involved making improvements to an onsite water treatment system which allowed our intern to have a really hands-on experience. The project involved development of treatment concepts, followed by sampling, testing and trialling of each.

SoilCyclers: During their time with us, the interns will be working across a number of areas within SoilCyclers, including marketing. We also have a number of side projects in the pipeline, in which the interns will be involved in a marketing, IT and accounting capacity.

NuGrow: At NuGrow we are constantly trying to improve our process to achieve better composting outcomes. Selena has been able to take a leading role in our nitrogen ameliorant trials, where we able various beneficial compounds via a controlled trial to test for changes to nutrient composition.

What was the biggest surprise / what did you learn from the intern?

The Australasian Circular Textile Association: The student’s capabilities and unique knowledge were incredible, by far some of the most talented young individuals we’ve had the pleasure of working with.

Not only could they understand the necessity of the work we were undertaking but also demonstrated tremendous initiative in coming up with potential solutions in addition to what was tasked.

WestRex: It was really interesting hearing some of the ideas our intern came up with along the way, having a fresh set of eyes from outside of our industry allows for new ideas to be explored. Something we were also impressed with was the level of IT capacity, the younger generation have a very competent understanding of different platforms and can source and use data very effectively!

NuGrow: Selena’s positive attitude did not and has not waned. Composting can be messy work, and when you’re testing and trialling there is not option other than to get your hands dirty. We are continually impressed with Selena’s thirst for knowledge and willingness to do the hard (and sometimes messy) work.

How important is it for the sector to engage the next generation of the workforce?

IMPACT Community Services: We want to partner with the leaders of the next generation to explore their biggest and brightest ideas that will enable us to ensure our social enterprises balance market economic needs with our for-purpose endeavours.

By exposing these future leaders to the social enterprise space we hope to make it a more attractive career option for them. Social enterprises will need the best business minds to ensure their long-term sustainability.

The Australasian Circular Textile Association: Engaging students is invaluable, not only are they learning at a much faster rate through the ability to absorb far greater amounts of information for various different sources whilst approaching tasks from a non-bias perspective – they also challenge our pre-existing mentality.

We’re very much of the mindset that the younger generation is at the forefront of emerging industries and innovation. The linkage between real-world challenges and university programs ensures students are well equipped with some understanding of what level of change has to be made, what challenges are out there, and how they fit within the larger system.

WestRex: It is so important to engage the next generation into the waste sector. Traditionally waste hasn’t been viewed to be as exciting or appealing as other industries however this should no longer be the case.

There is a huge amount of investment pouring into the waste sector to support the development of newer smarter technology and we need will new talent to come along with this. We should be engaging more with tertiary education institutes to ensure that graduates are aware of the types of opportunities on offer.

NuGrow: We feel engage with the next generation workforce is significantly important in the waste industry, because the waste industry needs to attract stewards of our environment. Waste is ever present resource which will require continuing innovation for higher uses.

Who better than our young generation, who will experience the environment for the longest to be stewards.

For more information about WRIQ’s internship program contact Mark Smith at: Mark.Smith@wriq.com.au or click here

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