Waste Warrior Diaries

Ashley Sinclair

Noosa Festival of Surfing - March 2024

Waste Warrior Diaries

As a first-time Waste Warrior volunteer, the abundance of positivity and knowledge at the Noosa Festival of Surfing gave me a strong sense of hope and community. It sounds cliche, I know, but I’m sure those who have also worked or volunteered hands on with environmental conservation and sustainability will know the feeling. Having the opportunity to work with inspirational women such as Mandy, Amanda, Jen, and Delphine, who have endless experience working, living, and breathing everything sustainability is invaluable. When the backdrop of an event is Laguna Bay, with surfers dancing on glassy waves in the late afternoon sun, it’s hard to have a bad time.

Sorting the waste first-hand allowed me to truly understand more about our waste management as I, like everybody, often struggle with the question, ‘which bin does this go in?’ As the members of the public each in turn asked us these questions, I found myself becoming more confident in understanding how to dispose of and sort items correctly. I knew that I was first hand making a difference in diverting waste from landfill and educating myself on waste management strategies and programs.

Our team of volunteers sort through the waste stations that are set up from First point to the beach bar in front of the Noosa Surf Club. There are four waste streams at each of these stations; 10 cent containers for change (donations going to Plastic Free Coolum), co-mingled recycling, landfill, and composting (going to Earthborn). Each time we sort through and find a new item that we are unsure about, I am reminded that we are all learning. The industry of sustainability and waste management is a relatively new space in which there is so much to learn, and so much room to grow.

This is not normally where I would find myself (gloves on, picker in hand, head over a bin), and yet I surprised myself by how I came to find it more interesting than gross. Whilst I normally shy away from the more ‘unpleasant’ things such as food waste and fishing plastic bottles out of the bin, the other volunteers demonstrated how it is far more interesting and important that we divert waste from landfill, than it is ‘gross’. It’s all about perspective. Perhaps the way we think about our waste as ‘gross’ has been subconsciously learnt as a side effect of the consumerism crisis and contributes yet again to the vicious cycle: we avoid learning or thinking about where our waste goes, for that would mean facing the even more unpleasant truths about the state of our planet and society.

It is naturally a little bit overwhelming seeing four bins - two of which are unfamiliar to most people - when we normally find only two bins in public spaces around the Noosa shire. As I’m sure many of the volunteers will agree, I saw that for many people, the default for when we are unsure is to simply throw everything into landfill. We are, of course, creatures of habit. However, with education and familiarity, we can make a difference and help people sort their waste correctly. Even if just one person walks away thinking about the environment, or remembering what they can recycle at home, the world is a better place already. As we got to talk with people and direct them to the right bin, the look of surprise when we tell them that their cup is compostable or show them how we can recycle the plastic, tells us a lot about the lack of awareness and education surrounding sustainability. The common confusion about sorting waste is only made worse by the variations in waste management in different places (both in Australia and overseas), and packaging that is misleading or vague. The subtle greenwashing seems more common than I would have thought, as phrases such as ‘recycled materials’, or ‘biodegradable’ are not always accompanied by direct instructions for disposal or certification of these claims.

Every little piece counts, and as we have seen at not only this Plastic Free event, but in the Noosa region, we have come so far in improving our sustainability practices. There is so much incredible hard work being done to reduce the impacts of tourism and events on the natural environment; with a plethora of opportunities to continue and extend these efforts to protect our ecosystems and the Noosa we know and love. I walked away with a head full of knowledge, a strong sense of community, hope, inspiration, newfound connections, and only a little bit sunburnt (sorry Amanda), knowing that my actions DO matter (and yours do too).

Plastic Free Noosa would like to thank all the incredible Waste Warriors who joined us over this years Noosa Festival of Surfing, we couldn't have done it without you!

If Ash's article has inspired you to join us as a Waste Warrior we are always on the hunt for likeminded legends to join us to help out at Noosa events and you can sign up to be a volunteer here.

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