By Kody Cook, Journalist, Council Magazine

Sustainability Victoria (SV) has appointed 23 Buy Recycled Champions from 21 regional and metropolitan councils as part of its Buy Recycled Service, who are responsible for supporting the uptake of sustainable procurement practices by tailoring approaches to their respective council areas.

Appointed in March 2023, the champions will operate in their roles until June 2024. Participants are provided with opportunities to build capacity, influence, network and share successes within their own councils and beyond.

Champions were selected based on their enthusiasm to improve sustainable procurement outcomes at their council, ability to influence internal sustainable procurement decisions, and their interest in supporting other councils on their sustainable procurement journeys.

The Buy Recycled Champions initiative is part of SV’s Buy Recycled Service, which enables councils to use more recycled materials and products in infrastructure, landscaping, parks and gardens.

Buy recycled champion: Kathy Zu

One such Champion is Kathy Zu, a Recycling Education Officer from the City of Casey in south-eastern Victoria. Council Magazine had the opportunity to speak with Ms Zu to learn how she came to the sustainability sector, what issues are inhibiting the uptake of sustainability practices in her community and how she is working with Council to overcome them.

Ms Zu explained that she was initially drawn to the Recycling Education Officer role because of her strong desire to offer more resources and opportunities for communities to engage in sustainable practices, particularly multicultural communities. I’ve always found the sustainability space to be quite overwhelming, in regards to the amount of information that’s out there and also the amount of conflicting opinions that are out there,” Ms Zu said.

“I felt the need to not only educate myself further, but also to help make this information and knowledge more accessible to the residents of the City of Casey. My background in community engagement and Casey, being one of Victoria’s most culturally diverse areas, provide a really unique opportunity.

“I strongly believe in the importance of improving the accessibility of information, which stems from my own family background as a first generation Australian. “Being the first in my family to be born in Australia, I naturally became the translator for my family from a young age, helping them understand all correspondence and any information that came to our home.

“As a result, I gained a strong grasp of some of the challenges that multicultural families face in understanding some essential information and through my current role, I hope to help bridge this gap, ensuring that information about waste and recycling is readily available and accessible to all members of our community.”

Tracking Casey’s green spend

One of Ms Zu’s responsibilities as a Buy Recycled Champion is to track and record City of Casey’s green spending to understand where Council has undertaken sustainable procurement and what opportunities there are for future projects. Ms Zu explained how Council collects data by reviewing all of the purchases made in the previous financial year.

“Firstly, we identify any expenditures related to green initiatives, products or services. We also actively talk to other departments within the council and hear about their noteworthy green achievements where they have incorporated sustainability in their projects,” Ms Zu said. “We make sure these wins are celebrated, sharing through Council channels and social media, where it’s appropriate.

“We have four main categories when it comes to what is considered green spending. “Firstly there are green products, so anything that promotes sustainability, reusable products, things purchased secondhand or refurbished, and items made from recycled materials. “Secondly, there are green services, which includes any services that have had a positive impact on the environment, or that are conserving natural resources or reducing waste.

“Thirdly there is social purchasing, where the spending is driven by a public or community cause. And lastly, energy saving, which inlcudes any expenditures aimed at conserving electricity or gas.”

Increasing accessibility in the green space

Ms Zu said that one of the biggest challenges preventing all community members from recycling and embracing sustainable choices is the inconsistency of information available to them. “Historically, waste and recycling have been managed at a local government level, which has resulted in varying approaches, contracts, and communication about what can or cannot go into our kerbside bins.

“This inconsistency makes it difficult for people to know what the correct recycling guidelines are. “Additionally, the information itself can be quite complex. For example, cardboard we know is recyclable, but liquid paperboard, which is used in long life drink containers, which might appear to be cardboard and recyclable, is notoriously challenging to recycle because of its layers of plastic and foil in there.

“There’s also no regulation on having the recyclable triangle on products. We have recycling symbols on items that can’t actually be recycled, which adds to the confusion and also contaminates our waste streams as well.” Ms Zu said that she is excited that the Victorian Government is looking to standardise the waste and recycling list across all parts of Victoria. “It’s going to be a great start to not only improving people’s recycling, but also helping refuel their confidence in the sector as well.

“We do have a waste guide that’s updated every year, explaining what can or cannot go into each bin, as well as including bin collection days. “We also have an online waste directory where people can just type in the item that they’re interested in disposing of, and it’ll tell them the best local option for that. And we also run lots of community programs out there.”

Looking toward the future

When asked what she wanted for the future of the City of Casey, Ms Zu said that she would love for the area to become a model of sustainability and the circular economy. “I envision a community where reusables and refill stations are the norm, and where people prioritise buying high quality, durable products that last longer.

Also where repair becomes a more affordable and accessible option rather than people just replacing their broken items with a new item again. “So in this vision, we’ll be reducing waste, but also promoting a culture of responsible consumption, and ultimately it’ll help make Casey a greener and more resilient city.”

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