Professor Margaret Bates is proud of the waste and resources industry in which she works. But does everyone understand and appreciate what a career in waste can entail? And what we really do? Not entirely, as she explains… CIWM Journal Online Exclusive
I have been involved in the waste and resources sector for over 25 years and to be honest, I love it. Over the years I have met many like minded people with a similar passion whose love of all things waste drive this industry. But, to the outsider looking in, what really is the wastes industry?
“Is it recycling boxes?” A question I have been asked many a time by those who don’t really understand the complexity and multi disciplinary nature of our beloved industry. Our sector provides a service that everybody uses and takes for granted with an expectation that whatever the average householder regards as waste is collected and recycled, magically removed from their world out of sight and out of mind. That is until something goes wrong or some journalist, politician or an area of central government releases negative press stories, contradictory or unscientific messages.
Householders want high recycling rates and we have delivered, now achieving recycling rates that are above average for the EU but, they don’t want landfill, they don’t want thermal solutions and they also don’t want us build any infrastructure near their homes. As an industry we should be encouraging an ever greater move towards sustainability and circularity in our resource use but restrictions and charges are seen as nanny state or stealth taxes.
Our sector has for too long been about the negatives and now needs to push forward the positivity and enthusiasm that I have always found within the many people I have met. The public have very high expectations but often lack understanding and knowledge about what the sector does. There has been a huge amount effort explaining to the public, in particular children about the importance of recycling but not on the activities that go on behind the scenes.
Proud To Be A Part Of It
I talk to colleagues about the varying different aspects in which they work and they make me proud to work in this industry. As an academic and ambassador I am all too aware that other sector are not as inclusive or engaged with the development of students and young people. Students that undertake wastes or resource based topics are enthused by site visits and speakers that convey passion and interest in their topic and relish the opportunities that are presented but in essence we are preaching to the converted. We need to spread the word to shout about all the positives that we are doing, from high recycling rates, to biodiversity to new clean and innovative technologies. When talking to children and young people in schools about recycling (or maybe even the top of the waste hierarchy) it would be great if people could spend a few minutes to promote the career opportunities that the sector presents.
In many ways our sector is very similar to logistics:
- An industry that is taken for granted
- Public face (bin man / lorry driver) does not reflect the breadth of opportunities
- Sophisticated technological solutions
- Excellent and varied career opportunities in the UK and globally
- Growth sector
I would love to see more pride and self promotion in the waste and resources sector, positive and success stories which highlight the diversity of opportunities and help to encourage more people into it as a career. I don’t think that people are put off by the use of “waste” – I think that often the jobs available do not occur to them. Wouldn’t it be great if the industry could work together to highlight what great careers are available in the sector?
Recently we had a three month visit from a Ghananian waste manager who was overwhelmed by the friendly and approachable attitudes, offers of support and help that he received from all levels. From my experience this is normal and the supportive encouragement from colleagues often helps to foster relationships and generate innovative ideas and ways of working. Perhaps though we need to let the world know and push our sense of pride in what we do to beyond our own sector. The sky is our limit and in the famous words of Jeff Buckley, always remember “the sky is a landfill” so at least we know what we’re talking about!
Professor Margaret Bates is an ambassador for RWM in Partnership with CIWM.