Interview: The Chaser’s Craig Reucassel goes to war on Australia’s waste in new ABC documentary series

How often do you think about the food leftovers you might throw out after dinner?

Or how about when you’re shopping at your local Woolworths or Coles, how often are you thinking about the shape of the bananas you’re buying?

These were two questions I was left asking myself after I watched an advance copy of the first episode of new ABC documentary series, the War On Waste. Presented by The Chaser‘s Craig Reucassel, the series aims to investigate Australia’s status as the fifth most wasteful country in the world, the role major food and retail industry players play in the grand scheme of it all and most importantly, what we as consumers and residents can do to be a bit better and reduce our footprint.

From banana farmers to dumpster divers, the first episode alone introduces the viewer to an array of individuals from vastly different backgrounds, but enforces the universal theme of the series – we’re all in this and we all play a part in how our environment develops and in many ways, is deteriorating.

Sitting down with Reucassel at Sydney’s Giant Dwarf this week, I wanted to gauge his thoughts on how much the original vision for the series had grown as a result of his research and the exploration of it by the War on Waste team as things continued.

“To be honest even in three episodes, I don’t think we’ve answered them all,” he admits. “I think there are many more that we still want to answer. It was a bit overwhelming; there are moments, like with the banana famers – looking at the huge amounts of edible food going to waste was a bit overwhelming. Realising how much of our own bins are filled with plastic and stuff, that does overwhelm me. Trying to battle it in your own house, it’s so frustrating to do that!”

A prominent focus of the War on Waste sees Reucassel engage with a group of Sydney residents and bring them in to an experiment to see how much waste they generate as a household and what ways they can help reduce the level of waste they’d fill their bins with on a regular basis.

“I’ve been interested, from an outside perspective, for a while,” Reucassel admits. “Once we sat down and started looking at all the different waste streams and when we also went through people’s bins and saw what there was, I think that was when we went, ‘Okay – there is so much of this, let’s see what happens’.”

“In some instances, it’s easy and you can follow where it goes easily, you know what happens. You can find simple solutions. Other times, we found ourselves banging our heads up against a wall, really struggling to find answers from recyclers or waste companies or councils. It’s been interesting trying to answer the questions that have come up.”

What started as an initial experiment and research plan has now blossomed into a full blown social media community campaign, one that Reucassel hopes continues to grow once the War on Waste makes its TV debut.

“The interesting thing I’ve found,” he explains. “When we’ve worked on the street, it’s been fascinating that as soon as they really started engaging and once they saw their rubbish laid out, they were like, ‘We’re going to try and reduce this.’ They kept finding new ways to do it and they would be chatting with each other and finding new ways. You can, once you engage with it; it’s surprising how much of what goes into your bin that goes to landfill, how much you can actually cut down. Some of those things are really easy and some take a bit more effort, but I think you can definitely do it. You talk about the changing society and I do feel like Australia has become wealthier over the last decade or 20 years and I feel like that works against us in the wasting. A ‘throw-away society’ is the way we’ve gone.”

“It’ll be fascinating how people get together on social media once it goes to air and share ideas and knowledge; we’ve tried to cover some of the stuff but there’s just so much more.”

Along with the issue of food waste issue that plagues much of our society today, the War on Waste also takes aim at the fashion industry, the rise of ‘fast fashion’ and the lack of technology and models in place to combat the problems associated with it. As Reucassel explains, it’s not hard to start investigating on our own.

“I think sometimes it’s just down to being made aware of it.” Reucassel says. “You’re often just throwing away little things and it’s at the point of standing back and going, ‘That amounts to this much waste?!’ I was fascinated by the fashion waste; I hadn’t really thought of fashion waste and just how much of it there is. It’s becoming such a growing waste stream in our bins and the faster fashion gets, the faster clothes are being turned over and thrown away. It’s the one area where I was ahead of the game on because I just wear the same clothes until I die, as you can see! I was amazed.”

“Fashion waste is a really hard one because there are some attempts out there at the moment to regather clothes and maybe recycle them but at the moment, the technology seems to be quite behind. The big problem is that the business model of fashion is going the other way; it’s becoming faster and faster. It’s becoming premised on: you get more clothes, you wear them less, you turn them over and they’re cheaper. I think fashion is a really hard one to solve.”

With a young family of his own, Reucassel admits that there were elements of his research and filming that were confronting, when it came to how we all could be doing more to be more environmentally conscious.

“In some ways I thought that kids would be better at this recycling thing because they’ve probably grown up school learning about the environment. My overall impression, actually, over this period is that the elder generation are better than the younger. The older generation has gone through periods where they’d have been used to reusing things, making it last as long as possible. I’m trying to bring my kids around; there are some successes and others not so much. We’ll see.”

“There are a lot of things that I’ve been trying to fix in my own life, some have been more successful than others, but I’m still trying. Hopefully others can get on board and try too. Part of it is out of your hands but a lot of it is in your hands.”

Take the War on Waste survey here. Engage on social media using the following hashtags:

#BYOCoffeeCup, #WaronWasteAU #SizeDoesntMatter

The War on Waste debuts on ABC come May 16th.

Lead photo by Ben King/ABC.