The Work

Seventy percent of what is purchased in Australia ends up in landfill and around five billion dollars worth of food is wasted annually. Australians waste far too much but these bad habits are gradually changing for the better. Rodney Dekker’s photo essay ‘Reclaimed Journeys’ documents the positive initiatives that are making a difference.

One of the largest and most successful recycling schemes in Australia is the Container Deposit Legislation (CDL) scheme that commenced in South Australia in 1977 which achieves an 80 per cent recovery rate of beverage containers. Portside Christian College in Adelaide has adopted a rigorous recycling programme, raising thousands of dollars through the CDL, which they donate as foreign aid. Other schemes include the recycling of plastic at Melbourne Zoo, the re-manufacture of tyres and billboards into a variety of products by Tyrecycle and Haul and the processing of household recyclables by VISY.

A number of charities in Melbourne, such as Sacred Heart Mission, are preventing food ‘waste’ from entering landfill by reclaiming perfectly edible food and cooking free meals for those in need. Families, governments and businesses are also reducing the generation of waste. Increasingly families are using reusable bags and nappies, a number of schools use second-hand government furniture and a café in Melbourne called Silo produces zero waste.

But what happens when waste does enter the environment? Marine debris impacts negatively on 77 Australian species such as birds and turtles. The government’s Coast and Marine Surveys Project and the organisation Earthwatch are examples of clean up operations. The Kananook Creek Association plays its role in clearing a local creek in Frankston, Victoria, to restore it to a thriving natural habitat.

By raising awareness, monitoring and cleaning up natural habitats, recycling, remanufacturing, reusing and extending the life of products, through to the reduction of waste in the first place, the need for raw material extraction is eased and less waste and fewer greenhouse gases are generated. This produces a cleaner and healthier environment for all species to enjoy.

  • Along the banks of the Kananook Creek, Rodger returns from collecting rubbish. The Kananook Creek Association cleans up the creek twice yearly. Today 17 people found a bike, a suitcase, a shopping trolley and 15 bags of rubbish. In the 1960s the creek was virtually a raw sewage outflow so groups like this one have been instrumental in developing it into a recreational area.
  • Kristian Peters is Coast and Marine Surveys Project Coordinator from the Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources. He conducts a post-mortem examination, a ‘necropsy’, on a Short Tailed Shearwater and finds nine pieces of plastic in its stomach. During the last surveys they found over 80% of birds with plastics in their stomachs.

    The plastics inhibit chick growth and also contain many harmful chemicals which affect their endocrine systems. Marine debris impacts 276 organisms worldwide including 77 Australian species.

  • Kristian and Peter, from the Coast and Marine Surveys Project, separate debris into categories while Deb records the number of items and their weight. The marine debris project has been running for four years and is part of a commonwealth initiative called the National Threat Abatement Plan for Marine Debris.

    Kristian explains: “Marine debris can be harmful to wildlife and our ecological systems. The Australian government is trying to find out where it is coming from and is looking for ways to manage this widespread global issue.”

  • Silver, a 25-year old Australian Fur Seal came to Melbourne Zoo at eight months old with discarded fishing net caught around her neck so tightly she could barely breathe. Zoo Keeper Sophie Douglas says: “The vets had to cut the net out of her neck and she still has a large scar.”
  • Every fortnight on St Kilda Pier in Melbourne, volunteers from Earthwatch monitor penguin health. About 200 penguins live along the pier.

    Julie, a dedicated volunteer, explains to kids fishing with their dad: “If fishing line gets wrapped around a penguin’s leg, they can lose their foot, so if you see any fishing line lying around you need to pick it up.”

  • An old sign situated in front of a recycling depot in South Australia. The Container Deposit Legislation (CDL), also know as ‘cash-for-cans’, began operation in South Australia in 1977 and achieves an 80 per cent recovery rate which is better than any other state in Australia.

    Since September 2008 the refund was increased from 5 to 10 cents, which has encouraged greater recycling.

  • The CDL has created unexpected opportunities for resourceful people as the scheme allows South Australians to receive a refund when they return beverage containers to a recycling depot.

    This lady is raising money for a holiday to visit relatives abroad. By collecting bottles, cans and fruit juice cartons on the ground or in rubbish bins she earns $200 per month. Over the last three years she has lost 8kg. She sets a cracking pace as she walks.

  • Kids sort recyclables at Portside Christian College in Adelaide where teacher Lee Grigg initiated a recycling programme eight years ago. “I watched one of the kids put a fruit box in the bin and I asked if he realised he had just put five cents in the bin. The kid put his head in trying to find a five cent piece, and I said ‘no I mean the fruit box’”.

    Initially Lee put one basket outside a classroom to raise money to purchase a goat through Tear Australia then the entire school joined in.

  • Students at Portside Christian College collect pull rings off drink cans for recycling. Lunch is eaten in classrooms and recyclables are deposited in baskets outside. This reduces waste and provides better recycling outcomes.

    Lee says: “I think the whole notion of recycling is so important. Anything that we can reuse or recycle saves our natural resources. It’s not just something that we might want to do, it’s something that we have to do.”

  • Les, the groundkeeper at Portside Christian College, receives the school’s refund of $80.20 at Scott’s Recycling depot. The depot separates the items into cardboard, plastics and aluminium cans, counts them and totals the amount to pay out.

    Through the CDL refund scheme, the college has raised $6000, which it donates as foreign aid.

  • A truck deposits kerbside recycling at a VISY recycling centre in Heidelberg. The residents place their recycling bins out on the kerbside every fortnight.

    The trucks are emptied at the VISY processing facility where all the material is separated into their commodities and bailed up. VISY recycles paper, cardboard, plastic, aluminium, steel and glass.

  • Tyres are delivered to the processing plant at Tyrecycle, Australia’s largest tyre recyclers. Hugh Cotton, General Manager of Operations says: “Every year thousands of tyres are illegally dumped in landfill. One of Tyrecycle’s major aims is to decrease this type of disposal.”

    Tyrecycle has recently received funding from the Victorian government to increase the scope of tyre recycling.

  • Rodney stands in his delivery truck. He is one of 300 tyre retailers that regularly deliver tyres to Tyrecycle. The rubber is ground into granules and powders, which are used to create athletic tracks, playground and road surfaces as well as in the manufacture of break pads, building insulation and new tyres.

    Tyrecycle has played a major role in establishing the Australian Tyre Recycling Association.

  • Manager of Haul, Scott Kilmartin, cuts up a vinyl billboard. When advertising campaigns come to an end billboards are supplied to Haul. These are up-cycled into cool computer and iPad cases.

    Scott says: “No two products are the same - our uniqueness is probably our biggest selling point.”

  • Keith manages the Re-used Office Supplies and Equipment Scheme (ROSES), a government initiative in South Australia where used furniture and stationary is collected and redistributed to public schools.

    Keith explains: “Anything you would see in a government office basically rocks up here when it is excess to their requirements and I give it away.”

  • Amy throws her child up into the air with a reusable cotton nappy on. Amy Scott and Nathalie Nunn run a reusable cotton nappy business called Little Diamond Bums.

    Nat says: “Eight hundred million disposable nappies go to landfill every year in Australia alone. You could fill the Melbourne Cricket Ground three times over. It takes five hundred years for a disposable nappy to break down. The amount of water used to make a cloth nappy is a lot less than to make a disposable one.”

  • Steve Phillips and his daughter Hannah prepare for grocery shopping. The family has reduced the amount of waste going into their landfill bin by half as part of a Moreland City Council initiative called Zero Waste Challenge.

    They use reusable shopping bags, cardboard boxes and mesh netting instead of plastic bags. They purchase fewer products with packaging, they compost and have a wormery.

  • Foodbank, FareShare and SecondByte reclaim food around Melbourne which would otherwise go to landfill and give it to charities who cook and serve nutritious meals for the unemployed and disadvantaged.

    Ben, the truck driver for the Sacred Heart Mission’s ‘Meals Programme’, collects donated food from markets and delivers it to the kitchen.

  • Volunteers preparing food at Sacred Heart Mission. “If I had to buy food to run this service I’d be looking at half a million dollars a year to pay for it,” says Suzanne McDonnell, Co-Ordinator of the Meals Programme. “About 95% of the food we use here is rescued food."
  • Pumpkins that are rescued from Melbourne markets are thrown into a pond for the elephants to eat by Zoo Keeper, Lucas Magee, at Melbourne Zoo.

    “I’m really proud of the work that our food store manager, Collin Van Dyke, does. He’s up at the crack of dawn collecting unsold food from markets around Melbourne for our elephants. If the zoo had to pay for this food it would be very expensive,” says Lucas.

  • Silo Café is a zero waste café situated in Melbourne. No packaging enters the café as suppliers deliver produce in reusable bottles, kegs, buckets or crates. Café manager Trent Heffer explains: “In order to create no waste we need to avoid bringing things in that will ultimately be thrown away."

    Soya manufactures wouldn’t supply milk in reusable kegs, so they began making their own soya milk by using dried soya beans.

  • At Silo Cafe, all food scraps are deposited into a food waste dehydrator that processes the organic material into rich compost. Joost Bakker, Director of Silo Café, plants his favourite potato, Dutch Creams, as he spreads the rich compost.
  • Hannah Phillips (10) waters the garden with worm juice that is generated as a by-product of worms eating food scraps in the family’s wormery.

    Hannah explains the benefits: “Worm juice is sort of like liquid fertiliser that we mix with water and then we pour it on the garden to help the plants to grow.”

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The Photographer

Rodney Dekker

Rodney Dekker is a photographer and filmmaker predominantly covering environmental and social justice issues. He is best known for documenting communities and landscapes impacted by climate change in Australia, Bangladesh, Tuvalu and Kiribati. His images have appeared in publications around the world including The Toronto Star, The Washington Times, Asian Geographic, South China Morning Post and the Sydney Morning Herald. His work is featured in several books including: ‘Water Matters’, ‘The Water Dreamers’, ‘Beyond Reasonable Drought’ and ‘Australia’s Wild Weather’. The Sydney Morning Herald, Australian Geographic, Australian Broadcasting Commission and the Herald Sun have published his video documentaries.

Dekker has received many honours which include: finalist of Reportage, United Nations Media Peace Awards, Australia’s Top Photographers, Moran Photographic Prize; honourable mention of International Photography Awards and Px3; selected for the Eddie Adams Workshop USA. A number of his photos are held in the National Library of Australia and in the state libraries of Victoria, Queensland and South Australia. He holds a Masters degree in Environmental Analysis and International Development and is a member of MAP Group documentary photographers based in Australia.

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