Redesigning Waste Management: SORT’s Paula Hardie on the economics of waste, and the role of community engagement in eliciting change

Ahead of SORT‘s first Colloquia Sunday session, we had a chat with their Design Lead, Paula Hardie, to learn more about why waste is a resource and her involvement in the move to redesign Brisbane’s waste management system.

Please can you tell us a bit about who you are and what you do?

I’m a Brisbane-based designer who works towards socially and environmentally viable futures. I graduated with an honours degree in Design Futures, majoring in Visual Communication Design, from Griffith University in 2016. In my career so far I’ve worked in various capacities across the design industry spectrum; from traditional graphic design studios, to an ecological food distribution organisation, to a charity connecting the homeless to the community. I now work as a community hub coordinator and design lead at SORT, a not-for-profit based in West End, Brisbane.

How did you first get into your career and what’s changed since then?

The experience in my education was really what lead me to my choice of work today. My mother was a graphic designer in the eighties and so passed on the creative gene. Initially I thought I was headed towards an artistic career in design, one of branding and typesetting like my mother’s.

However, I quickly learned that the role of the designer, regardless of discipline, is now loaded with political, environmental, and social responsibility. This daunting fact was reinforced by a challenging degree that taught me not only how design had brought into existence many complex problems of the contemporary world, but how we might design away those problems also.

Thus it is my personal and political agenda to work responsibly as a designer.

What’s SORT all about?

For the past five years, SORT worked across 25 of Australia’s most resource-poor communities as a not-for-profit community recycler. While SORT’s projects in recycling, training, and job creation found strong support from the communities, it was near impossible to achieve truly viable waste management using Australia’s current systems.

Coupled with recent media on Australia’s waste management industry, such as the ABC’s War on Waste series and Four Corners’ August investigation, SORT’s purpose has quickly become imperative in a much needed shift away from landfill.

SORT now works as a small, yet ambitious, design-led team from our community hub in the heart of West End, Brisbane. We collaborate with the local community, developers, designers, academics and stakeholders to design an alternative waste management system called The SORT System™. The open source system will allow householders to separate discarded resources and recover the value for themselves.

As the current waste management system in Brisbane has been designed for us, rather than with us, it’s integral that we engage community as The SORT System™ evolves. Thus, the SORT Hub hosts a suite of learning programs, workshops, and events to build trust, agency, and resilience among the local community.

Can you tell us about the inspiration behind the Colloquia Sundays series?

SORT’s monthly Colloquia Sundays series was inspired by the spirit of West End, widely known for being a politically charged area, and for epitomising diversity. Lately, the landscape is rapidly shifting with urban development and population growth, though the community remains resilient in their embrace of innovation, creativity, and social activism.

We wanted to provide an approachable space and forum for the community to discuss meaningful matters that stimulate citizen democracy, while also connecting with each other over a wine and tasty subject matter. It is a Sunday session, after all.

What can attendees expect from the first SORT Colloquia Sundays session?

The first SORT Colloquia Sunday session is called Money Talks: The Wasteful Economics in Resource Recovery. Alongside a panel including Australian economist, John Quiggin; co-founders of the Circular Experiment, Jaine and Ashleigh Morris; and commerce student and 2018 UQIES President, Dave Cole, this session will look at Australia’s waste management through an economic lens, as opposed to the common environmental lens. We’ll explore how  the economy should shift to facilitate the recovery of our resources, rather than sending them to landfill.

Each Colloquia Sunday session gives attendees the opportunity to submit questions for discussion prior to the event and, as the conversation grows, write down their ideas which will form a participatory map of individual, collective, and policy actions. The collated map will be published each month and sent to relevant decision-makers as a tangible outcome of each session.

I’m especially looking forward to the January 2018 session, Radical Brisbane, which will look at how the modern day activist has evolved over the years.

Who are some of the women who most inspire you and why?

Lately, my main source of female inspiration has been rather local. Colloquia Sundays has been collaboratively developed by a slew of intelligent women, all sitting in the driver’s seat. Namely my SORT colleagues, Lucy Matthews and Ashleigh Morris, both of whom get things done! Maddie Bassetti, a badass woman in tech of Bloom Technologies, who will be moderating our first Colloquia and acting as a Catalyst for SORT’s Digital Discovery Workshop on systems thinking. And finally Kara Simpson, SORT’s second Colloquia moderator and design strategist with a keen eye on activism.

I feel a very strong and supportive female presence at SORT and in Brisbane in general.

What’s next for you and SORT?

I’m really looking forward to meeting new people and seeing local faces come through the SORT Hub doors over the next few weeks as we launch our programs. The SORT System™ Pilot will also begin trial in early 2018 which will pull together many of our programs and participants. It will involve a group of householders and businesses testing the operation, be assisted by our hands-on Business+ trainees, and collaboratively designed with architects, designers, developers and the West End community.


Answers and Images by Paula Hardie of SORT
Questions and Edits by Emma Kate Lewis

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