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Spotlight On: Jelena Hercegovac

With so many recent changes to environmental and sustainability regulations across Victoria, we spoke with Jelena Hercegovac, Repurpose Its Group Head of Environmental & Sustainability, to get her insight on current and future industry trends.

What are your main roles and responsibilities as Group Head of Environmental & Sustainability?

We’re a sustainable resource recovery organisation so, from an environmental perspective, it’s particularly important that we’re managing our operations appropriately and reducing risk.

My role is to give our clients the confidence that the products we’re producing have been handled appropriately, from both a regulatory compliance and quality perspective.

Here in Victoria, the new Environmental Protection Act 2017 (EP Act) and the Environmental Protection Regulations 2021, came into effect on 1 July 2021, introducing significant changes to environmental management and protection. So an additional part of my role is to work with the Victorian EPA (Environment Protection Authority) and manage legislative approvals and requirements to ensure we have appropriate operating licenses in place across all our business operations.

How have you seen the industry evolve throughout your career?

I think recently there’s been a focus on sustainability and diversion of resources from landfill.

The recovery of waste, and consideration of more innovative measures of recycling and waste aversion, has been a key focus for our sector and the clients we work with. Many of our clients, including major infrastructure projects, now have a strong emphasis on sustainability and resource recovery, such as reuse of soil and other waste materials that have a recycled component.

There’s been a big push to transition away from traditional methods where significant waste ends up in landfill—a move which has been supported by government initiatives and the new EP Act and Regulations.

What was the catalyst for these changes?

Since the 1960s, we’ve seen growth in environmental movements. However in particular, the past 20 – 30 years has ushered in rapid acceleration of both environmental policy and activism. We’ve seen this on both on a local and international level— especially amongst key environmental bodies within the United Nations and many NGOs (non-government organisations).

These organisations have really driven the conversation and raised awareness about climate change, pollution and contamination, waste, resource depletion and biodiversity loss. In the past we’ve witnessed significant neglect of nature, as financial drivers took priority over environmental consideration.

Modern consumers want products and goods to be more sustainable, and there’s now conscious consideration of purchasing things at a local level. Customers are demanding that businesses are more environmentally conscious, and in turn, it has impacted the way organisations and local governments source and treat resources. It’s been a holistic approach from all facets of society.

Looking to the future, what do you hope to achieve at Repurpose It?

My main goal is making sure that regulatory compliance is always at the forefront of everything we do and in accordance with the law. This gives clients the peace of mind that Repurpose It products are of the highest quality and compliant with regulations and standards.

Another key task for my team is to make sure that we’re providing best practice training to all employees, embedding a culture of environmental awareness and risk mitigation. Every team member has their part to play when it comes to fulfilling our General Environmental Duty under the new EPA Act.

We’re also constantly looking to further innovate treatment options and recycling methods, so we can recover as much of Earth’s precious resources as we can.

What made you want to work at Repurpose It?

In my previous role at a consulting firm Repurpose It was a client, which provided me with a great opportunity to learn more about the industry side of things.

I felt by working for Repurpose It, as a relatively young business, I had an opportunity to use my experience to make a difference. I thought it would be a fulfilling and rewarding challenge, and having worked with them previously, I knew they were committed to best practice and operating in accordance with legislation and regulatory requirements. This commitment, along with their core business value of resource recovery and sustainability, aligned with my own values.

What do you expect will be one of Repurpose Its greatest opportunities in the near future?

There’s a huge opportunity to further our role as a leader in the resource recovery industry. We’re currently the only facility in Victoria that treats contaminated Category C and D spoil through a washing plant mechanism.

We are continuously striving for further growth opportunities and developing more innovative recycling and resource recovery options to differentiate our capabilities from other players in our sector.

Collaborating with key government stakeholders, the broader industry and other businesses is a major focus, as it gives us the opportunity to develop even more innovative and sustainable solutions.

As leaders in the resource recovery space, do you think there’s a responsibility to educate?

Absolutely, and it goes beyond educating our team. We work closely with universities and have the vision to expand our education initiatives within the broader community, including schools. It’s important to educate students from early on, and send strong messages around sustainability, resource recovery and preservation.

We have an active role in liaising with councils and industry bodies to share knowledge and say, “this is what we’re doing and here are the environmental benefits.”

What trends in sustainability do you expect to see in the near future?

Renewable energy resources and a reduction on fossil fuel reliance will be key over the next few years and decades. There will be an expectation from Australians that cleaner energy generation, such as wind and solar energies, will make a more significant contribution in helping to reduce our carbon emissions and environmental footprint.

I believe the trend of reusing sustainable or locally sourced materials, and supporting grassroots sustainable agriculture, will continue to flourish. Supporting a circular economy and further diversion of waste from landfills will be key for our business, clients, and society.

That’s where we have an exciting role to play, to further develop and expand our resource recovery capabilities for waste, for even more re-use in the market.