Newcastle high school students are being tested to come up with innovative solutions for local businesses to increase recycling during the second Sustainnovation Challenge on 2-3 March.

The two-day virtual workshop includes a series of preparation and discovery sessions with industry specialists before students create and then pitch their problem-solving ideas to a judging panel.

The City of Newcastle Sustainnovation Challenge is a community capacity-building project involving education, industry, community, and city leaders who volunteer their expertise and mentor students to help develop a workable and sustainable future for the city.

In 2021, Germany held the lead world ranking by recycling 70% of all waste material produced ( By contrast, another report suggests Australia was recycling only 41% of its waste material (

Sustainnovation Challenge Program Director Duncan Burck believes tapping into student’s creativity, enthusiasm, fresh ideas, and insights is key to the project’s early success.

“We know young people come to problems with fresh thinking. Following the program’s launch late 2021, their contribution and visions have gone beyond our expectations,” Duncan said.

Since participating in the first challenge last November to create a more accessible and inclusive city, students from Bishop Tyrell Anglican College and Merewether High are working together to develop purpose-built learning programs and experiences for teachers to incorporate in the current health, wellbeing, and relationships school curriculum.

One of the upcoming workshop presenters, Sustainability Project Manager at Hunter New England Local Health District Elissa Klinkenberg, says their target to become waste neutral by 2030 led to battery recycling and plans to expand paper and cardboard recycling, along with introducing organic waste recycling in staff tea rooms.

“In more recent months our ‘sustainability champions’ have introduced recycling of IV bags, Kimguard, baby bottles, metal and plastic needle caps,” Elissa said.

“Recycling isn’t something that is embedded into everyday practices within hospitals or general
healthcare settings. It can be and should be.”

The most outstanding ideas to emerge from Challenge #2: How do we overcome the barriers to Newcastle and Hunter businesses recycling or using recycled products? will progress to Council’s Living Lab accelerator program to be further developed and possibly implemented.

Schools taking part include San Clemente High School, Merewether High School, Macquarie College, Hunter School of Performing Arts, Newcastle Grammar School, and Bishop Tyrell Anglican College.

Delivery partners and supporters include NSW Department of Education, Hunter Joint Organisation, Australian Industry Group, Hunter New England Local Health District, John Holland, Business Hunter, University of Newcastle I2N, Circular Hub, and Port Waratah.