Some may say my sustainability journey began when I was a five- year old and accompanied my parents to the local tip, where one person’s trash is another person’s treasure. I’m sure I picked up some treasures over the year and recall very early instances where material could be reformed and upcycled rather than disposing of it to landfill.
As a 10-year old, my classmates and I made our catwalk debut, at small public school located in Port Stephens NSW, where we modelled the latest fashions we had made out of plastic bags and textile scraps otherwise destined from landfill.
Moving forward to my working career I started driving trucks and equipment for Brambles Australia servicing manufacturing businesses and heavy industries, including steel, aluminium and power. I saw ‘waste’ materials increasingly become acknowledged as resources able to be reformed for use in alternative products and markets. For example, steelmaking slags could be processed for use in civil application projects, biomass co-fired with coal to reduce reliance on fossil fuels, and other inherent value extracted from waste regardless of the industry or business that generated this waste. I also began to realise logistics was a key component in the supply chain in terms of how “waste” could be best managed from generator to potential end market users.
In 2005 I helped “rescue” redundant plastic extruder pellets that had been sitting idle in a shed, no longer needed or wanted. The shed was due to be cleaned out and the plastic pellets were earmarked for landfill. Within 24 hours I had identified the logistics and end market required to re-home this material in Sydney. Not only had I been able to deliver commercial benefit to the business, as the material had significant value, I had set the wheels in motion for my future engagement in the circular economy becoming later involved in supplying materials and logistics know-how, for the early trials of polymer in Steelmaking, a collaboration between OneSteel and UNSW and other industrial ecology projects.
In 2014 I was instrumental in Unilever’s first Australia site (at Tatura, Victoria) achieving zero waste to landfill status. At the time I was also reporting to a landfill manager whom was measured by other metrics as opposed to diversion from landfill. Challenging the status quo, I demonstrated that anything is possible if you have the desire and motivation to think outside the box, delve into the “niche” and explore the possibilities.
In late 2014 I started Cross Connections Consulting to communicate the possibilities, connect stakeholders to progress circular economy opportunities and to collaborate to ensure landfill diversion and maximising the value of “waste” resources to ensure it is not wasted.
The Plastic Police Story – In 2015 I purchased furniture and furnishings delivered directly from a distribution centre. Each product came wrapped individually in soft plastic packaging, no doubt for product protection. As a responsible recycler I knew that soft plastic couldn’t be placed in my yellow lidded recycling bin at home and therefore the only other at home option available to me was to place in the red lidded general waste bin.
As a responsible recycler I was aware of options to utilise store drop offs, although a recent NSW EPA community recycling benchmark survey suggest only 2% of the community utilise this option. As someone in the “know” I knew that soft plastic is inherently recyclable but not easily so through current collection methods. Plastic Packaging is considered a problematic waste and yet there is currently no uniform system with the capacity to accept or collect the volume of plastic packaging currently ending up in landfill. In my particular example I had far too much volume to take to the local supermarket drop off point, not to mention I would have overfilled the already overflowing bin creating litter in the process. With the knowledge of the high volume is still is going to landfill 60%, the fact that people would like to recycle soft plastic (often incorrectly through the yellow lidded recycling bin 34%) and only 2% are using existing store based drop off programs combined with a desire to make a difference, the Plastic Police Partnership program was developed.
It’s an emerging local community recycling and education program to engage stakeholders to address and manage the negative environmental impacts that soft plastic has in our local communities.
It’s a collaboration program that realises we all have a role to play to encourage and implement opportunities to reduce the use of plastic where possible and where this is not possible recognise that the plastic can be diverted from landfill, or from our local environments, back into the circular economy.
It’s a social based program that brings communities and groups together, facilitated by the Plastic Police Partnership model and partnering organisations, to address local issues and implement local solutions.