Waste hero Gerry says rubbish needs a re-think

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Author Gerry Gillespie… “The key is not in the stars, but in our minds.” Photo: Belinda Strahorn

WASTE warrior Gerry Gillespie argues that when it comes to waste we’ve got it all wrong.

In his new book, “The Waste Between our Ears” Gillespie, 71, a writer, researcher and advocate, challenges readers to change the way they think about rubbish.

“We need to change our minds about waste, because the only place waste exists is between our ears,” he says.

“Waste is a concept derived from lazy thinking and twisted economics. 

“We need to reconnect our organic waste to local soils and our wasted resources to local jobs.”

The idea of zero waste is pretty hot right now.

In times of increasing heat, fire and rising waters, Gillespie’s book presents recycling and composting as the means to achieve a zero waste economy.

Gillespie, who calls Queanbeyan home, has been involved in the recovery of wasted resources and their reuse for almost three decades.

Known as the “creative composter”, Gillespie’s concepts have taken him across the globe to China, the UK, the US and Egypt, but his passion for composting, recycling and waste management lies closer to home. 

Gillespie, who helped invent the territory’s yellow-lid bin recycling system, says the ACT should look to Wales, a leader in waste management, to improve its recycling capabilities.

“The key is source separation,” he says.

“In Wales, they stopped using big bins and they use a stack system, so each house has a bin on a trolley and you separate your waste into different categories like paper and cardboard, glass and metals, and you leave that bin, along with a food scraps bin, on the side of the road for collection.

“The collectors take the waste from the categorised trolley system that’s been left on the curb and they put it into the truck.”

If waste were collected as separated products, Gillespie argues more than half of it could be returned to soil as compost and biological products. 

A large percentage of the rest, he says, can be put back through recycling, re-manufacturing and re-using and as a result, create more jobs.

“Instead of investing in huge, big, expensive trucks you are investing in people and creating jobs and that’s what I am saying is the best outcome, especially during a pandemic, where we need to create more jobs.”

Up until 2001, the ACT was a “big stand out”, recycling about 71 per cent of its total waste stream.

In 2020, Gillespie argues we could be doing more.

“The problem is you have a situation where, if the company who is collecting the product is not the same company that is trying to sort the product, the one who is running the collection truck doesn’t want to send it back to the centre unless it’s full and so they have a temptation to increase the compaction more,” Gillespie says.

“You can’t call it recycling if you pulp the stuff so tightly together and you end up having 20 per cent of it becoming waste, because it’s so damaged.

“Or you have a situation where the federal government has to step in because the Chinese say we don’t want to take your contaminated rubbish anymore.

“China will still take recycled materials from Wales because it’s not contaminated.”

Gillespie points to countries across the globe who are excelling in the field of waste reduction, simply by thinking differently.

“The Zabbaleen people in Egypt have perfected a door-to-door system with manual and mechanical systems that allow for local production of paper, cardboards, clean pelletised plastic and topsoil from compost,” he says.

“There’s a community in Raglan, NZ, that has achieved 74 per cent diversion from landfill and is turning Raglan’s waste into resources for employment and environmental benefit while moving toward zero waste.”

Gillespie’s book is the culmination of a lifetime of work and includes eight of his original poems. 

Kicking off his new novel during a global pandemic wasn’t part of the plan, either was a cancer diagnosis early this year, but Gillespie says it’s all part of the journey.

The international zero-waste campaigner’s logical argument is a simple one; to help the environment and grow a local economy.

“The key is not in the stars, but in our minds.”

“The Waste Between Our Ears” ($30) will be launched via zoom today (October 28) and available at Paperchain Bookstore, Manuka.

 Science and the Arts
The balance of this earth sublime
As nature had intended
Lives constantly within the stress
Humanity invented
The challenge of the times is this
If we can only face it
If science be what we design
The art is not to waste it
— “The Waste Between Our Ears”


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