Notre Dame student researches recycling behaviours

20 November 2019

Susann Noé, a higher degree by research student at The University of Notre Dame Australia, recently presented at the 2019 Waste and Recycle Conference in Perth. Hosted by the Waste Management and Resource Recovery Association of Australia, WA’s Department of Water and Environmental Regulation (DWER) and Western Australian Local Government Association, the conference is the leading waste and resource recovery event in Western Australia, and Susann had the opportunity to discuss her work in environmental psychology with policymakers, leaders, educators and peers from across Australia.

Hailing from Germany, where recycling infrastructure is well established, Susann was surprised to find the behaviours around recycling are quite different in Australia. Susann initially moved to Australia to work as a Container Deposit Scheme (CDS) expert for Remondis, one of the world's largest recycling and environmental services companies. Her work led her to realise there was a lack of community acceptance around recycling schemes here. Thinking about how to change that then led her to Notre Dame.

Susann submitted a formal research proposal to the School of Business Research Committee this month, and her research study, which is in the early stages, has gained funding support from DWER. The study will investigate household disposal practices, with the aim to understand how daily practices form, reoccur and change, and what the barriers to sustainable practices and the use of recycling schemes in Australian homes are. “A mobile research app will be given to study participants to observe and collect data of people’s daily disposal practices,” says Susann. The novel method has never been applied in an Australian environmental study before and will contribute to enriching environmental campaigns such as CDS education programs to encourage people to build better recycling practices and make use of recycling schemes.

“Traditionally, environmental education would address an individual’s environmental knowledge and attitudes with the aim of making people behave in a more eco-friendly way,” Susann explains. “However, we now know that knowledge about environmental issues and positive attitudes towards being more sustainable do not translate into pro-environmental behaviour directly. People do not always behave essentially rational and often external factors and old habits or practices can override all good intentions.” This is why Susann is shifting the focus from people's conscious minds, their knowledge and attitudes to subconscious daily practices automated and ingrained into our lives.

Susann is a member of the Australian Waste Management and Resource Recovery Association (WMRR), Secretary of their NSW Young Professional working group and actively involved in the Waste Educator working group. Susann is passionate about sharing her work with others and learning more about how to bring the recycling sector forward in Australia.

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