A quiet revolution has been taking place during the past 28 years, and it's been right here in our own backyard.
During that time one organisation has been running the Tuncurry Community Recycling Centre, achieving outstanding waste recovery and creating a community hub around re-use and waste avoidance.
Remarkably, it has operated the site as a social enterprise, before social enterprise even had a name.
Resource Recovery Australia (Mid Coast) formed a contractor relationship with MidCoast Council that has both continuously evolved and stood the test of time.
The Tuncurry site today includes a weighbridge, transfer station, landfill, container deposit collection and a host of community activities including salvage, tip shop, bike repair programs, community garden, organic recycling workshops and more.
Resource Recovery Australia has just released its FY19 annual results that show its Mid Coast operation diverted 291.76 tonnes of material from landfill for re-use and the container deposit station has recycled 4.8 million containers since September 2018.
Such a multi-faceted, community-facing site produces great opportunities for local people through training, employment, Indigenous representation, community education and waste management.
"RRA is a social enterprise that operates on a commercial basis," manager, Krysten Banks said.
"We are effective waste managers for the purpose of achieving environmental and social outcomes.
"Our profits are re-invested in our people, the environment and community projects.
"We're equally proud of our diversion rates, operational efficiency, job creation and community engagement successes.
I want to do our culture proud and our families and community itself and this is closing the gap as well.- Brando Ridgeway
"It's why RRA exists."
Building and sustaining such a long and rewarding partnership with the council has brought many benefits such as being able to better understand priorities and goals.
"We meet monthly and discuss operational and strategic issues and challenges - trust and respect has been fostered and I often feel part of a larger waste management team," Ms Banks said.
"I've learnt a lot from council as our partner, and together we've achieved some amazing outcomes for our community."
MidCoast Council waste team considers the Tuncurry CRC a practical example in delivering a waste management asset that looks to the future.
"As well as redeveloping the physical site, our partnership with RRA makes the new facility a true community hub," MidCoast Council waste program co-ordinator, Amy Hill said.
"It provides for convenient, clean and easy-to-use waste disposal with a focus on diversion, but just as important, it acts as an educational facility where people can come for inspiration and creative ideas around waste minimisation and recycling," she said.
In the past year, RRA Mid Coast had around 40 per cent of its staff identifying as Aboriginal, as well as providing opportunities for people doing community service orders, work for the dole and volunteering.
Overall, the site enabled 12,104 volunteer hours.
RRA Mid Coast site area supervisor, Brando Ridgeway said as an Indigenous worker, he often got feedback from customers that they are impressed by the number of Indigenous workers and praised the great customer service.
"I want to do our culture proud and our families and community itself and this is closing the gap as well," Mr Ridgeway said.
Like Mr Ridgeway, fellow supervisor Emillie Cullen started as a weighbridge operator.
"Like Brando I'm a bit of an all-rounder. There is a lot of variety, there is so much to do onsite, operating different equipment and each day is different," she said.
Prior to working at RRA, Ms Cullen worked in retail but says that kind of work in a seasonal town was just "not enough to pay the bills".
Ms Cullen recently completed a Diploma of Business and is looking to progress into a managerial role.
She is one of several staff who have benefited from more than 230 hours of training in the past year.
"We have an excellent operations team," Ms Banks said.
"We're able to provide support for our employees so they achieve job satisfaction and we have embedded a number of strength-based HR principles to assist the journey of all our staff while they're here."
The design of Tuncurry Community Recycling Centre was acknowledged last year with MidCoast Council receiving the Brisbane Waste Management and Resource Recovery Association Innovation in Waste Transfer Station Award and the NSW IPWEA Engineering in Excellence Award.
This is partly thanks to RRA and council drawing on local architect Ian Sercombe who has been involved in planning and design onsite over many years to produce demonstrable sustainable outcomes wherever possible.
"The design of our site means that we recover a great deal before it even reaches the transfer station," Ms Banks said.
"There are two points that people pass through before they reach the transfer station - the CRC and the weighbridge - where staff ask customers a lot of questions about what could be re-used or re-sold," she said, adding that they have a real passion for waste recovery.
The CRC also handles problem wastes such as batteries, e-waste, fluorescent tubes, motor oil, gas bottles, and was able to divert nearly six tonnes from landfill in the last financial year.
"We operate a very holistic site, you can do everything here, it's a one-stop shop, whether you're bringing batteries or food scraps," Ms Banks said.
She estimates the site would receive around 1200 visitors a week, from the weighbridge to staff, community garden and other activities onsite.
One of the most important parts of the job for Ms Banks is the community development role.
"This allows us to create meaningful partnerships that demonstrate sustainability and provide participation opportunities for all community members, especially those experiencing disadvantage," she said.
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