The woman behind an education and recycling program that aims to reduce plastic in the environment has been named the 2020 Hunter Hero.
Samantha Cross from Plastic Police was chosen for the award, which was presented by the Newcastle Herald and Hunter Water.
Plastic Police helps organisations reduce their use of soft plastic and reuse it through a circular economy program. Recycled plastics are then turned into products such as bench seats.
"The whole premise is for plastic products to actually be recycled you have to buy back the products they've been recycled into," Ms Cross said. "We've been working with Downer who is recycling it into asphalt and Plastic Forest which turns it into garden beds and other companies such as Replas doing furniture."
The program was piloted in 25 organisations including schools, businesses and councils, and the pilot has resulted in Plastic Police developing a range of educational resources for more organisations to implement the program themselves.
- Take a look at the 2020 Hunter Hero nominees here.
Ms Cross said she started the program at her children's school in 2015 to help make a difference in the amount of soft plastics the school community was using.
"Our rate of plastic waste is increasing and we can no longer send it overseas to be recycled so we need to look at unique ways we can manage it in Australia," Ms Cross said.
"We don't want it to end up in landfill because it is a valuable resource so we need to keep it in the circular economy, and by doing so we're extracting value but we're also making sure it doesn't end up in the ocean and affecting our waterways.
Ms Cross said she was "overjoyed" her recycling efforts had been recognised with the Hunter Hero award.
"I was very humbled because I wasn't expecting it and it's really nice to be recognised for something I love doing," she said.
"It helps us get the message out there. We're on a mission to solve the soft plastic waste issue through education and receiving this kind of recognition helps us to expand our impact. We've just developed some amazing educational resources for schools and communities and we want to see those deployed nationally."
One of the organisations Plastic Police has worked with is Hunter Water, and managing director Darren Cleary said Samantha's dedication to conservation was what led to her being chosen for the award.
"Waste is a problem for us as a society," he said.
"Samantha is tackling what was always seen as a really intractable problem at a grass roots level, so the energy and the enthusiasm and showing what can be done was really attractive for us.
"I think she's a Hunter Hero because she's taken a challenge and a problem and tackled it in a really collaborative way. She's gone out there and done something that a lot of people thought wasn't possible and just got stuck in and done it.
"It's that can-do attitude but in a really engaging and positive way, so I think she's a great role model."
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