Monday, June 24, 2024

Resource recovery journey

With approximately 76 million tonnes of waste generated annually and only 38 million tonnes going to recycling, Australia has a long way to go in reducing landfills, creating value from waste and kickstarting the circular economy. But without effective community engagement, resource recovery will continue to be an uphill battle. 

The CSIRO notes that significant investment in new waste infrastructure across Australia will fail to meet its goals if we cannot bring together the community and waste management industry, create a social license for the new waste infrastructure, and incentivise behavioural change. 

Quest Events spoke with Lisa McLean (CEO, Circular Australia), Parul Sood (General Manager Waste Solutions, Auckland Council) and Benjamin Bywater (Social Media Advisor, City of Paramatta) to gain their insights into community engagement planning, education, motivation and communication. 

Planning for success

When initially planning a new resources recovery initiative, how should local councils think of the role the community will play at each step of the process? 

“The community needs to have a voice within the planning phases, whether through a formal engagement activity or a community panel,” recommends Bywater. “A resource and recovery initiative (particularly any that will require the use of community money) needs to provide the community with an opportunity to shape what they want from the new initiative as it is developed. There should also be the opportunity for 360-degree feedback to close the loop for future recommendations and improvements.”

Sood highlights the importance of finding out who your potential community partners can be and putting out a call for interested participants from the beginning of the initiative. “It’s vital to bring [the community] into the planning process early on. In New Zealand, this is particularly important with Maori, who, under the Treaty of Waitangi, are partners with local government, not just community stakeholders. Making sure that our vision and objectives are aligned right from the start is essential.”

Councils should not assume that they understand the ins and outs of waste management without consulting with the community. “Understanding how a community moves through its local government areas to manage waste is important”, says McLean. “Where are the best sites for trials or new recycling drop-offs? What are the distances involved, ease of access and more.”

Tapping into the community’s appetite for improved resource recovery

Encouragingly, much of the community is already motivated, aware and eager for better waste management from their local councils, with 89% of Australians considering recycling important. This means that community engagement and education initiatives do not have to start from scratch but must build upon existing enthusiasm and knowledge. 

“Most people want to participate in recycling and are hungry for recycling services for clothes and textiles, organics and even more specific bespoke collections like soft toys and coat hangers,” says McLean. “They also do not want to throw away TVs and white goods, but usually have to because the repair cost is too great. Capturing these resource-rich opportunities is a huge economic opportunity for councils, their partners, or new services. People want options beyond three bins, Vinnies and curbside pick-up.”

Community engagement and education strategies

What are some effective strategies for engaging and educating the community?

“Education or awareness-raising is ineffective unless there are ways for residents to do the right thing, so the focus has to be on providing the way for behaviour change to occur,” says Sood. “For example, by providing resource recovery facilities where people can dispose of and purchase unwanted items and materials – where residents learn while doing the right thing.” 

In Sood’s experience, the most effective strategy for driving behavioural change is to enable community partners (local organisations) to develop and help deliver the initiatives. “The operators of these centres provide locally relevant waste minimisation education. A recent example is our new Community Recycling Centre in Onehunga, where the Maori/Pasifika operator provides culturally relevant education to their community, which has a high proportion of Maori and Pasifika residents.”

Early morning view of Auckland CBD.

Auckland Council also provides grants to support waste minimisation and innovation initiatives. “Our Waste Minimisation and Innovation Fund distributes $500,000 annually to social enterprises, businesses, charitable organisations, schools etc., to develop and deliver waste minimisation initiatives in their communities,” says Sood. 

Bywater recommends using bite-sized content to make an impact in helping the community learn about any initiative. “From a social media perspective, using short format engaging video/animation content presents an opportunity to get real cut through to the community and involve them in real-time conversation.”

Don’t make the mistake of thinking community engagement is a one-off exercise. “Regular and constant communication and engagement are essential for success. Look for champions in the community who can spread the word through their networks, like local soccer teams, P&C associations or local clubs,” advises McLean. 

High-rise towers of Parramatta city CBD.

Exciting and motivating the community about resources recovery

Build engagement by having an aspirational vision that people can quickly get excited about and understand. Auckland, for example, has a Zero Waste by 2040 vision. Sood recommends explicitly linking waste reduction to climate change: “[Sorting their waste] is one thing most people can easily do to have a personal impact on the climate.”

Competitions and rewards can be very effective in driving engagement and excitement. “At the City of Parramatta, we’ve held online video competitions for the community to get involved in sharing how they are being sustainable and reducing plastic waste,” says Bywater. “These smaller, targeted engagement activities have successfully educated and engaged the community [and spreading the message through] user-generated content.”

Across the Tasman, there have been many nominations to the annual Auckland Zero Waste Awards, run by a local community enterprise supported by the Council. Regular newsletters and events help the Council maintain momentum.

McLean recommends keeping the community engaged by measuring progress and celebrating milestones. “Measurement is key. Ensure regular communication about the waste opportunity and how Council tracks against those metrics (carbon emissions reductions, the tonnage of waste, etc.).” 

Communication tips

We asked our three interviewees for their advice on the most effective communication methods. They responded:

  • One size doesn’t fit all. Use the method that best fits the audience, such as face-to-face, social media, email, printed mail (including information in rates letters), website content, radio ads, television or posters. 
  • Engage and invest in local partners such as schools and clubs because they know what will best motivate their communities. 
  • Use humour and avoid “council-speak” in campaigns.

“As with all campaigns, it’s about nailing down your target audience, budgets, creative content and creating an educational approach that removes the authoritative nature of a council to bring it back to a community level. Ideally, it will become a conversation with the community rather than Council telling the community what to do,” says Bywater.

Sood agrees: “Bringthe community on the journey with you. Involve them in the planning and execution and fund them properly to do it – don’t expect them to do it for anything [or] for nothing. Make Council the conductor of the orchestra, not a one-person band.”

Join us at the Resource Recovery Summit 2022 

Resource Recovery Summit 2022 brings together local government leaders for 2 days of in-depth discussions on developing a local circular economy as the race for councils to find practical solutions gains pace.

If you are a local government leader or practitioner working on resource recovery projects, let Resource Recovery Summit navigate you through the ideas, successes, challenges, opportunities and creative mindsets of your peers so that you can implement new strategies and projects for the benefit of your community.

Inside Local Government readers receive 15% off the registration fee, use VIP code ‘ILG15’ at registration.

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