We welcome Scott McDonald to the position of Senior Principal at ATC Williams. Scott has acquired over thirty years of experience in structural engineering and waste management. Based in the Brisbane office, he will also make regular visits to the Sunshine Coast and Toowoomba offices.
Scott, can you share a couple of career highlights?
I graduated in structural engineering but moved into waste management when I joined McIntyre & Associates in the late 80s. Our team supported Pacific Waste Management to win the contract to build transfer stations for Brisbane City Council. Brisbane had around thirty landfill sites at the time, and no-one even knew what a transfer station was! McIntyre & Associates became Maunsell McIntyre and then AECOM. To be part of the beginning of a new industry that is still evolving is a career-long highlight.
After leaving AECOM at the end of 2005, I joined Sheehy & Partners and returned to structural engineering, working on projects in the mining, education and commercial sectors. Over the fifteen years I was there, I helped the business to more than double in size. I left because the team I trained was ready for me to step aside so they could keep growing. That was a personally fulfilling career moment.
You started at ATC Williams in July, what are you excited to be working on right now?
I have a balance of mining and waste engineering experience that has made joining ATC Williams a perfect fit. At the end of 2016, I was on the Cleanaway tender team for the contract they subsequently won with Brisbane City Council to operate and manage the city’s waste infrastructure as part of the Brisbane Waste Innovation Alliance. I’ve been able to bring ATC Williams into several deliverables, and I’m excited to be assisting the BWIA with upgrades and infrastructure over the coming decade. I’m also enjoying working on tailings dam projects.
What are your thoughts on the future of waste management?
I believe that the key precursor to sustainability is making a profit to reinvest into future sustainability. That’s why the Waste Levy in Queensland is so important. It makes landfill a bit more expensive and that in turn encourages redirection of money into recycling and recovery. But it took over ten years of talking to make that happen.
Fifteen years ago, I was Queensland president of the Waste Management Association of Australia, which is now the WMRR. I was across the latest thinking in resource recovery back then, and its good to be reconnecting with trends again now. Technology allows us to do good things with waste now such as reusing landfills, extracting gas as waste degrades, redirecting greenhouse gas emissions and even generating electricity.
How can we get better at recycling and resource recovery?
With China and other countries no longer taking our recycling, Queensland is implementing the local processing concept that Victoria uses. The unique challenge for Queensland is the distance between populations. The solution will probably look like several smaller processing plants where materials are collated and transported to larger material recovery facilities.
Overall, it’s an incremental process of public education. The container deposit scheme is an example. It encourages behaviour that keeps recyclable materials from being contaminated. A lot of people don’t realise that broken glass is an ongoing problem in yellow top bin recycling. The shards get embedded into paper and plastics and make them unable to be recycled.
The newer ‘FOGO’ project is another positive step. This is the separating of Food Organics and Garden Organics from the red top bins, so it doesn’t go into landfill and can create a higher quality compost product. Again, it is about public education and the right economic drivers to make these initiatives a success.
What is most satisfying about your work?
There is still no ‘textbook approach’ or Australian Standard of how to design a transfer station because there are so many variables. Waste is non-homogeneous because it varies season to season and location to location. For example, in Queensland, we build to allow for cyclonic events that can create a mass of debris to be cleaned up all at once.
Plus, it’s not only about the handling of waste. There’s the civil aspect of water and road access, the structural engineering of the buildings, electrical and mechanical processing systems, air supply and hydrology. Then economics and politics add another layer, such as ‘NIMBY’ or the ‘not in my backyard’ issue of finding locations that are both out of sight and appropriate.
Driving all design is the human behaviour element. There’s a lot of thinking about the complex variety of risks involved when the general public are unloading rubbish. Everything from how to correctly reverse a trailer to the best height of steps and railings. So, there’s an element of social research and psychology involved too.
It’s that mix of disciplines and the personalities of the people required to get the outcome for the client that keeps me interested. There’s a complexity of social, council and commercial needs to account for that makes creating solutions very satisfying.
Is the COVID-19 pandemic affecting waste management?
We already have hazards such as asbestos and medical waste as part of waste management strategy, so the thinking for pandemic waste is already in place. Now it’s about increasing scale and staffing to deal with the additional collections required and the growing quantity of medical waste, right now and going forward to 2021 and beyond.
What do you do to relax?
I’ve been involved in Scouts since I was a kid and I’m the Group Leader of our local Scout group. I love that my son and daughter, who are 15 and 17, are keen Scouts too. I like being involved with young people and helping them build resilience. That’s proving to be a useful skill to have right now.