Let's tell the public why waste is not rubbish

Written by: Wade Schuetzeberg | Published:
Wade Schuetzeberg, executive director, European region at ACN (Europe)

Much of the public undervalue the waste and recycling services provided to them, while too few young people see resource management as an industry they would like to spend their careers in. Wade Schuetzeberg, executive director, European region at ACN (Europe), explains the need to refresh the sector’s image and credentials

There is no need for me to use this column space to highlight the diverse range of financial and environmental benefits of investing in the waste and recycling industry. We know that recycling is worth £23bn a year in the UK alone, employs thousands of people and encourages the wider community to use our resources more sustainably. If you are reading this, I would most probably be preaching to the choir.

There are, however, misconceptions among the public about what the industry does and what it is worth. The closest many members of the public get to what we do is having their rubbish collected by the local council.

With all the relatively parochial dramas of inconsistent wheelie bin collections, the rises in tax to accommodate waste services and our throwaway culture, the true and essential value of what our industry does, including the positive impact this has on the environment, often gets lost in the ether.

Even though waste collection is one of the only services paid for by council tax that all community members tangibly experience week in and week out, waste is seen as nothing more than what it is at face value on a weekday morning, being dragged out onto the street:
a load of old rubbish.

It is within our power as an industry to change these preconceptions of what we do
and what we are worth. We need to show that ‘rubbish’ is rewarding. We believe there is a number of ways we can determine the future stability and expansion of our industry.

Youth

When children are small, many dream of becoming the famous vocational figures they see around them and adopt in play: doctors, firemen, teachers, police, nurses, vets and astronauts are favourites.

By the time GCSEs roll around, 16-year-olds are more aware of the different jobs available to them. While careers events focus on law, media, finance and medicine, there is a gaping hole that resource management, environmental protection and waste services could fill. We need to appeal to young people and properly introduce them to the gem that is the waste and recycling industry. We need to show young people that there is so much more going on in waste than simply bin collections; that the industry is dynamic, lucrative and multi-faceted; that working in waste and recycling will introduce young people to a global operation of inter-connected people, countries and technologies.

There are so many opportunities available to young people that they may not know about.
By using social media and outreach events to connect with them, we can ensure that new, exciting talent keeps coming into the industry, pushing the boundaries of what we are collectively capable of while also ensuring the industry’s longevity.

Diversity

To make waste and recycling even more exciting and interesting for young people, they need to see the full breadth of diversity within the industry. In the past, many of the jobs in waste were undertaken by men, and the benefits and perks of business were often targeted at traditionally male pursuits (golf, football and racing tickets sound familiar?). It is time that we placed a bigger focus on increasing the number of women in leadership roles and encourage the visibility of women who work commercially, operationally and logistically at all levels.

At ACN, we have a female founder, a female CEO and have recently announced significant high-level appointments of female leaders in our UK marketing and operations departments. By creating a better, more varied profile of the types of people who work in waste and recycling, we will encourage and attract a bright and energetic workforce to commit to the business at hand.

Security

It’s hard to deny that we are living through uncertain, changing times, what with Brexit and recent unpredictable fluctuations in the market. England’s recycling in 2016 fell from 44.8% to 43.9%, and quality clamp-downs in China are beginning to pose problems in many areas
of our work.

While challenging, all these factors prove that there is much to be done in promoting responsible waste management, and increasing recycling capabilities and awareness. What will not change and what will always be a driver of profit and new horizons in our business is this very simple fact: as a society, we are not going to stop producing waste.

As long as demand stays high and we continue to produce waste, we need effective ways to manage it and effective colleagues to manage the work. Making ourselves more appealing to the wider public will not only guarantee jobs in a reliable and essential industry, but will also ensure that we are as modern and dynamic as possible to confront the challenges of the future.


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