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One woman’s drive to change how waste is managed

Dianne Bortoletto -

From the Bunda Clan of Gooreng Gooreng Nation, Jade Ritchie, is leading the charge to change how hazardous waste is managed.

As general manager, business development at Tellus Holdings, Ms Ritchie is the central driver of the private company’s ‘consent-based siting’ approach that seeks to incorporate Indigenous knowledge as an integral feature of business decision-making.

“We are disrupting an industry and asking people to think and act differently when it comes to dealing with hazardous waste,” Ms Ritchie said.

Committed to cleaning up and caring for Country, Tellus Holdings has taken waste from every state and territory, first consulting with First Nations custodians before a waste management plan is developed.

Australians produce 2.95 tonnes of waste per person per year.

In 2019-2020 Australia generated about 7.4 million tonnes of hazardous waste, which is about ten per cent of all waste generated globally.

“To give you an idea of the scale of Sandy Ridge, the facility is approved to dispose of seven million tonnes of hazardous waste over a 25-year period,” Ms Ritchie said.

“We are providing a solution to a massive problem that a lot of Australian’s don’t realise we have, and we are doing that in partnership with local communities. For me to see the two worlds, two sciences, come together to repair and care for country is really meaningful. I love that we are doing something important.

“Our main goal is to enable green technologies, which themselves produce hazardous waste that must be managed, and to take a proactive approach to waste management so we no longer see hazardous waste pitted onsite where it can leach into waterways. My Country has both fresh and saltwater and I was raised knowing that water is life. To be in a job that protects the health of water from nasty waste is rewarding for me.”

Prior to this role, Ms Ritchie was Director, Economic Development and Major Projects in Arnhem Land for the Australian government.

Two years ago, I had the opportunity to leave a very comfortable government job and do something exciting and new,” she said.

“I’m proud that I didn’t let the desire for security stop me from taking on a challenge and doing something that can bring real change to communities and to the health of our nation.”

In her twenty-year public service career, Ms Ritchie has held roles predominantly in Human Services and Aboriginal Affairs in Queensland and the Northern Territory including remote communities in the Top End and Central Australia.

“My mum had a very limited education …. when I was a teenager, I taught her how to use a computer,” Ms Ritchie said.

“Mum completely retrained and is now a territory sales manager for a multi-national company.

“She taught me to work hard, back myself and keep moving forward. The cards you’re dealt are not the ones you must live with.”

A passionate advocate for social justice and economic participation for the First Peoples of Australia, Ms Ritchie has held a number of voluntary roles including steering committee member for the CSIRO Indigenous Innovation Alliance and the Marine Parks North Advisory Board.

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