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Focus on little communities to make a big impact

A University of Southern Queensland researcher is turning trash into treasure in a new project in the Lockyer Valley.

University of Southern Queensland post-graduate student Christine Blanchard is successfully combining her day job with doctoral studies to make her corner of the world more environmentally prosperous.

As the Waste Coordinator for the Lockyer Valley Regional Council, Christine is involved in trial funding under the State Government’s Food Organics Garden Organics (FOGO) program.

“The trial will be based on providing 900 households in Gatton and Laidley with an additional rubbish bin that’s specifically for food scraps and garden waste,” Christine said.

“That waste will then be diverted out of landfill and repurposed into compost, mulch and other beneficial elements for soil.

“From a State Government point of view, they’re keen to understand what this sort of collection looks like in a small community. The costs associated with additional collection, provision of bins and processing the material can be high for small councils, however, the cost of not providing an alternative to growing waste in landfill is also significant.

The trial will run until late 2022 and form the basis of Christine’s research project at the University of Southern Queensland.

"I have a degree in applied science and went on to do an MBA in Local Government,” she said.

“I attempted starting my doctorate after that but had to put it on hold for a time while my kids were little and changed course completely by doing a Graduate Diploma in Sport Management.

“I circled back around after that and completed a Graduate Certificate in waste management which helped me to take on an environmental health policy role which got me interested in how best to facilitate big projects for smaller local governments.”

Christine said when she started in her role at the Lockyer Valley Regional Council, she knew the stars had aligned to allow her to re-start her Higher Degree by Research.

“I was keen to apply for the trial funding and there were obvious synergies between that work and some sort of research. I investigated a few different options but after speaking with Professor Bernadette McCabe at UniSQ’s Centre for Agricultural Engineering I knew I’d found the perfect place to become a student again.”

Professor McCabe said she was excited to be working with Christine as her research supervisor on a trial that was the first of its kind in Queensland.

“Leading this project as part of her doctoral studies not only speaks volumes of Christine’s passion for this work, but it also serves as a wonderful reminder to anyone who might be thinking of changing career direction or are at a point in their life where extended study is an option, that it is never too late to enrol at University,” she said.

“There are so many options available from postgraduate certificates through to PhD studies that are worth investigating.”

UniSQ Open Days will be held at Springfield, Ipswich and Toowoomba campuses next month, as well as a virtual event.

two women smiling at the camera
University of Southern Queensland Higher Degree by Research student Christine Blanchard (L) and her supervisor, Professor Bernadette McCabe. (Supplied, UniSQ Photography)