Waste is women’s work? #Adelaide #auspol

The question was designed to be difficult, and the answers were in equal parts cautious and revealing.  Rather than about recycling – the topic of a tightly run panel discussion put on at the King’s Head by Adelaide Sustainability Connect and the SA Young Professionals Group of Waste Management Association of Australia (WMAA) – the question was about the audience.  Noting that this – and another recycling meeting last week (link) – had an audience gender ratio of 3 or 4 to 1, the questioner asked the panellists if such a ratio was normal, if it mattered and if so, what could be done – or is it just that men don’t care about recycling?

The panel, made up of Linley Golat, Sustainability Educator at Cleanaway, Lynda Wedding, Waste & Recycling Education Officer at the City of Onkaparinga, and Tim Johnston, Logistics Officer from Veolia had been dealing with less sociologically-focussed issues. The emcee, Matt Allen, had drawn each of them out on their work, its challenges and not just the ‘easy’ items to recycle, but also paint, electronic waste and medical waste.

Ms Wedding said that the audience gender mix was about standard, but that this was not necessarily a problem, since the research showed that it was women (wives and mothers) who manage the household  (the sentence ‘keeping the men in line’ was uttered tongue-in-cheek), and that events such as the one tonight, standing room only, with about 60 people present, were important for getting the word out.

Ms Golat was able to sidestep the first question, by saying that this was her first ‘public’ event – most of her work takes her to kindergartens, schools and businesses. She did not that when, as part of her job, she goes door-to-door, invariably and regardless of gender, the person who answers the door always points the finger of blame at other occupants of the property for any environmental shortcomings.

Mr Johnstone argued that things were slowly improving in terms of awareness of waste issues and the need to recycle, and pointed to his own household, where he does the heavy-lifting on these issues.

Other questions also brought interesting responses. Mark Parnell, MLC, asked whether the panel supported legislation given that education was a very slow process and exhortation had its limits. The panel was again cautious, but Ms Golat celebrated the outlawing of e-waste into landfill, and Adelaide City Council’s impending ban on plastic straws at events and plastic at public events.

Responding to a question on where soft plastics (e.g. food wrapping) can be recycled, Ms Wedding pointed to the ‘redcycle’ programme initiated by Coles, which has now been taken up by Woolworths in the aftermath of a scandal in which ABC’s War on Waste had installed geotracking on two bins of plastic recycling waste which found one had gone to landfill and the other overseas.  Wedding pointed to 11.2 tonnes of soft plastic being recycled in South Australia every months, and the company Replay turning that into a range of products.

Ms Wedding pointed to demand outstripping supply for organic waste to turn into compost, and all panellists urged for a greater community and business effort to divert organic waste from landfill.

A question on whether the ratio of recycling to ‘normal’ waste collection could be altered (to further incentivise householders to think where they put what) came up against the statutory obligations on councils, which nonetheless are keen – if only for budget reasons – to optimise their collections.

Adelaide Sustainability Connect organises these monthly meetings – details can be found on their facebook page


Q and A next week is devoted to waste and recycling, and ABC’s influential War on Waste returns next week.

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