Peter Creamer, Suzannah Mitchell and Scot Leven standing in front of the Waste Wall at UNE Life's Cafe Life, UNE

UNE’s Environmental Sustainability Manager, Suzannah Mitchell

Image: Peter Creamer, Suzannah Mitchell and Scot Leven standing in front of the Waste Wall at UNE Life’s Cafe Life, UNE

You may have noticed we’ve been talking about sustainability a little more recently? We’ve been Trash Talking, talking about the bin systems at UNE, creating a range of blogs featuring the little things that we can all do to help live a more sustainable life, and Cafe Life at UNE Armidale has installed a Waste Wall that displays how the sustainable packaging sourced by the team at Life, Functions and Catering is disposed of.

There are a number of reasons we want to share these things with you;

  1. We care
  2. It can be confusing
  3. Were working with a team of people with awesome ideas that are starting to see projects come to life
  4. It’s important – we only have one planet Earth

For parts of this campaign we’ve collaborated with UNE’s Environmental Sustainability Officer, Suzannah Mitchell – we thought we’d take a few moments to introduce her and her role at UNE before we really delve into the nitty-gritty!

Tell us a little about your job as the ESO at UNE.

I have been in this position for almost two years. The role is very diverse – ranging from water to waste management, Aboriginal Cultural heritage to landscape, monitoring energy data, researching new technologies, engaging with community on sustainability initiatives… The list goes on.

What are the main goals you work towards?

The goal is continual improvement in all areas. Last year was very water-focussed due to the drought so now that the pressure has somewhat eased, in addition to several water projects, I have been able to dedicate more time towards waste and recycling, landscape planning and resource consumption. I have also been working closely with our Aboriginal Cultural Advisor, Steve Ahoy, on a range of initiatives to better manage the Country on which UNE is built.

What are some of the initiatives that have been rolled out to achieve this?

From my experience in the past two years but here at Facilities Maintenance Services, we control the built environment so we have many opportunities to incorporate sustainability into the campus – Lake Zot, the solar farm and the geothermally heated aquatic centre are just a few examples.

We have done a lot of work in the waste management space over the past two years. We have rolled out new signage, got rid of desk bins, increased the number of recycling stations on campus, introduced campus-wide green waste, and more recently we have the joint initiative with UNE Life with the biodegradable package labelling at UNE Life outlets, they have now installed the fantastic Wall of Waste in Café Life, at our Armidale Campus.


What does the future of sustainability look like at UNE?

I see it being positive. There is currently a joint project between UNE and Armidale Regional Council called Zero30. The aim is to get UNE and the Armidale local government area carbon neutral by the year 2030. This project will be immensely useful in identifying where we need to improve and what our key focus areas should be to get to that carbon-neutral goal, maybe even surpass it! In the past year or so we have also begun to engage a lot more with the Aboriginal community, one of the most sustainable cultures in the world. I believe this relationship will play a huge role in UNE’s sustainable future.

How did the idea for multi-coloured bin system come about and why?

The 4 bin system mirrors the residential waste collection and it is set up in a way that allows the Armidale Waste Management Centre to best handle the waste. The blue bins are equivalent to your black recycling crates for paper, cardboard, magazines etc. The yellow bin is like your other black crate for bottles, cans, jars etc. The green bin is just like your green wheelie bin at home and the red bin is for everything else. The source separation of paper & cardboard and the yellow bin recyclables keeps the two different streams “clean” so when it arrives at the recycling centre it can be sorted efficiently and sold to recycling markets. Recycling plants don’t buy recycling that is covered in rotting food and other contaminants.

Why should trash and waste be sorted?

It is important to properly sort waste into the correct bins because otherwise recycling and green waste can become contaminated and may end up into landfill. The Armidale waste management facility is a much smaller operation than those you would find in larger metropolitan areas where material separation is largely automated. The Armidale Recycling Centre relies on the manual sorting of waste as it moves across a conveyor belt, so it is essential that recycling is “clean”, i.e. not covered in food remnants or other soiled items.

What is the importance of recycling?

I used to work in waste management so to me, the biggest things is avoiding landfilling materials that can be recycled, reused or composted. Although landfills have come a long way in terms of engineering, it is still the very last resort for waste management. I’ve spent a lot of time on landfill sites and up close it is pretty bad. The years worth of waste forms a liquid called leachate – essentially garbage-juice that leaches through the layers of waste, extracting heavy metals and toxins on its way. Nowadays landfill cells are lined, but at older facilities, it can leach into the soil and water table. There is also the issue of landfill gas that not only adds to the greenhouse gases, it can be explosive. By diverting as much material from landfill as possible we are reducing the strain on landfill facilities, reducing resource consumption, and in turn reducing our carbon footprint.

Can students reach out to you and get involved with sustainability on campus?

Sure, if you want to get involved, flick me an email at COVID has made it a bit difficult to engage with students this year but if you have any ideas, feedback etc. I’d be happy to hear from you. There is also a UNE Landcare group if you are interested, and UNE Life’s social team are always keen to hear about how you’re being an eco-warrior – so share your stories with the team and help get other students saving the planet too!

How can people working from home reduce their waste and live more sustainably?

COVID has proven that work can be essentially paperless and that unnecessary travel for meetings can be solved by Zoom. All over the university paper procurement is drastically reduced and corporate travel, particularly air travel is also dramatically down – think of all the impacts of paper and travel that we have avoided. In terms of reducing waste, you could start a compost at home for your food scraps, try to avoid excessively packaged products, or plant your own fruit and veggies so you can become more self-sufficient.

Thanks for spending a little time updating us with sustainability at UNE, Suzannah – it’s really great to know that UNE and UNE Life are thinking forward and future-proofing the campus for future staff, students, and the wider community! 

If you would like to have your say about the future of sustainability on campus feel free to reach out to Suzannah.
and keep an eye out for the Waste Wall and on our blogs for more information about how
UNE Life sources environmentally friendly products.