The War on Waste

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Veena Sahajwalla is revolutionising recycling.

As the engineering brains behind “green steel” and the world’s first e-waste microfactory, she is leading the way on “green materials” – products and resources made entirely, or primarily, from waste. From plastic bottle derived furniture to steel made from old tires, her goal is for people to see waste not as a problem, but as a useful resource.

In this episode of Create the Future, we speak with Veena about the limitations of conventional recycling and discuss the engineering required to disrupt the status quo. We unpack the environmental and economic benefits of her work, explore the troubling rise of e-waste, and hear how growing up in Mumbai fuelled her lifelong passion for repairing.

About the Guest

Professor Veena Sahajwalla is an award-winning engineer, materials scientist, and inventor specialising in recycling science.

Veena obtained a bachelors degree in engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology, a master’s degree from the University of British Columba, and completed her PhD at the University of Michigan. She currently works as the director of University of South Wales Centre for Sustainable Materials Research and Technology (SMaRT@UNSW).

She was named NSW Scientist of the Year for Engineering Sciences in 2008, has won the the Innovation category in the Australian 100 Women of Influence, and was recently elected as a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science (FAA).

Episode highlights

  • "Imagine if we could start to think about all materials as renewables, if we could harness more of our waste and really use that for manufacturing […] then we would have actually started to shift the way we think about the making of metals."
  • "Sometimes challenging the norm is the only way we're going to see a massive shift in the way we do things."
  • "When products break down, or they become obsolete, we don't really have systems in place that allow us to harness those important materials that are embedded in electronics."
  • "It's not okay that as a society we've just become used to this mindset that we can just throw things away."
  • On being an engineer: "There are many, many pathways, and you can actually create massive impact on people’s lives. So, it is an absolute privilege and an opportunity. There are absolutely no limits or boundaries to what you can do."
  • "People are actually really creative and capable of taking all kinds of products and using them in different ways."
  • On growing up: "I was far more attracted to breaking things, repairing things meant that I think engineering was more my thing."
Photo by Emmet from Pexels

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