Leading waste to value scientific solutions

Photography by Salty Dingo

Australian Research Council (ARC) Laureate Professor Veena Sahajwalla is an internationally recognised materials scientist, engineer and inventor who is revolutionising recycling science. She is renowned for pioneering the high temperature transformation of waste in the production of a new generation of ‘green materials.’ 

Professor Veena Sahajwalla is the founding Director of the Centre for Sustainable Materials Research and Technology (SMaRT) at the University of New South Wales, Sydney. She heads two national research programs, the ARC Microrecycling Research Hub that works in collaboration with industry to ensure new recycling science is translated into real world environmental and economic benefits, and the new Sustainable Communities and Waste Hub comprising a consortium of leading research intuitions and industry, government agency and community partners.

“Recovering critical and valuable materials from waste has a big role to play in helping to electrify the world as we move towards renewable energies and reducing our carbon footprint. Many of the commodities and critical materials needed for this electrification are fetching record prices and suffering supply constraint issues, yet we can recover from waste much of the materials needed for a low emission future,” she said.

Sahajwalla received numerous awards and in 2020 was honoured by Engineers Australia as a Centenary Hero for her work, in 2021 she featured in Australian Story and she was named as the 2022 NSW Australian of the Year.

Sahajwalla, through the UNSW SMaRT Centre, is renowned for pioneering the transformation of waste for use as a new generation of ‘green’ materials and products. She leads research programs that promote collaboration with industry and end-users to ensure scientific advances are readily translated into commercially-viable solutions.

She is translating an unparalleled portfolio of new ‘recycling science’ knowledge into technologies that reform problematic wastes which are not usually subject to conventional recycling, thus ending up in landfill and stockpiles.

The new Sustainable Communities and Waste Hub is part of the second phase of the Australian Government’s National Environmental Science Program (NESP) and has been tasked to research ways to reduce the effects of plastic, support sustainable people-environment interactions and offer options to minimise impacts of hazardous substances and pollutants, using its cutting-edge technical capabilities, particularly in the fields of waste and materials processing.

The applications of Sahajwalla’s recycling solutions are being explored by ICC Sydney as the venue aims to solve a long term industry issue and deepen its environmental sustainability efforts by significantly reducing waste from events and exhibitions ending up in landfill for years after an event.