Transforming Waste, Transferring Knowledge

Way back in 1991 the very notion of a consultancy growing out of the Resource Recovery initiative at the Tuncurry ‘Tip’ would have raised eyebrows. Today, its a reality.

Resource Recovery Australia (RRA) is in its second year of operation and is proving to be a successful partner to municipalities and organisations across Australia, sharing with them the knowledge gained on site since those early days in 1991 at the Tuncurry ‘Tip’.

“It seemed like an obvious evolution to me”, says John Weate, CEO of Great Lakes Community Resources, the organisation which founded the Resource Recovery Waste Management Centre in Tuncurry. John is always happy to talk about the success of the Resource Recovery business model, a model that has developed over the past 24 years.

“The whole notion of land filling resources that could legitimately have a secondary purpose always baffled me. I mean, here is all of this ‘stuff’ just being buried, when in reality it was always more than just ‘stuff’; metals, organic materials, reusable goods, the list goes on”

“Many people thought that the Resource Recovery business model would be difficult to pull off in the beginning, but the years have passed and we are still here, and growing”

The model he refers to is one that has brought together the Great Lakes Council, Great Lakes Community Resources, and a wide range of other partners trying to help people experiencing disadvantage to find a pathway towards stability, if not prosperity.

“The real breakthrough was when we realised that recycling and re-use could exceed simply being good for the environment, but could also deliver a social benefit through access to entry level employment for people in the community”.

By bringing the social element into the business model, Resource Recovery was able to deliver a triple impact to the community through the management of local landfill and transfer station sites in a financially competitive manner for Great Lakes Council (Resource Recovery manages the site through a competitive tendering process); diverting resources from landfill through recycling programs including both industry links and community upcycling initiatives; and continually providing an employment opportunity to people in need.

“Everyone needs a place in their community; this usually means a job. Well, for someone experiencing significant disadvantaged looking to rebuild their life after time in jail, getting and keeping a job can be a very difficult thing to do”.

“Not all employers are going to give someone a chance if they are long-term unemployed, have a criminal record or suffer from a disability; but we do. Resource Recovery wants to give a people a chance to participate in the economy and take more control of their lives.”

Recidivism rates are particularly high among Aboriginal men in NSW, with 86% of Aboriginal people released from prison re-offending and returning to jail in under 2 years. In the 24 years that Resource Recovery has been operating and giving people an opportunity to access employment, only 1 person has gone back to jail whilst being an employee of the organisation.

“The proof is in the outcomes:

Do we provide a cost effective management service to the Great Lakes Council? Yes!

Do we provide a service to our target groups that delivers positive social outcomes? Yes!

Is there an environmental benefit as a result of our work? Definitely!”

It is this track record of measurable success that saw Resource Recovery win the Social Enterprise of the Year Award in 2013, and attract funding from the Westpac Foundation to develop Resource Recovery Australia as a consultancy for Councils looking into social enterprise solutions.

“We are stoked with the support from the Westpac Foundation, as well as the success we are already seeing for RRA. It has only been a short time in operation and we have a busy group of consultants working with clients across sectors within NSW and inter-state.”

RRA defines its mission as the following: to work with local government and communities to broker, establish and scale social enterprises that sustainably manage waste and generate local training and employment opportunities for people experiencing disadvantage.

If past successes and the strong and diverse team are any sign, RRA will be a positive force in the waste management and resource recovery sector for a while yet.

“We are really just scratching the surface, but we believe we have the right business model and proven track record to deliver real change over the long term”

Eyes alight with optimism and energy to burn, the naysayers from the 90’s couldn't stop John Weate at the beginning of this journey; they have no chance now.