Published on 15 April 2015
A 26-year-old University of the Sunshine Coast Environmental Health Science graduate is pursuing a career to rid the world of toxic waste caused by old computers, mobile phones, televisions and microwaves ending up in landfill.
Ashleigh Morris, now of Coogee, will receive USC’s highest award for a graduating student, the Chancellor’s Medal, along with her degree when she crosses the stage at the University’s Graduation Ceremony at 5pm on Friday 17 April.
“I feel honoured because the Chancellor’s Medal is an incredible achievement after all the challenges I’ve faced,” said Ms Morris, who left school on the Sunshine Coast after Year 9 and turned her life around in 2011 by enrolling in USC’s Tertiary Preparation Pathway (TPP) program.
“TPP teachers such as David Merry and Trish Whannell helped me so much and gave me the confidence to take the next step into the Bachelor,” she said. “Then during my degree I had excellent support from lecturers like Nicole Masters and Corinna Burgin-Maunder, so I just aimed higher and higher.”
Ms Morris is now studying an Environmental Management Honours by Research degree at the University of New South Wales while working as an intern at the Sydney office of TerraCycle, a world leader in the collection and reuse of post-consumer waste otherwise considered non-recyclable.
“I’m working on a national project to collect oral care waste, much of which is not considered recyclable because of the cost,” she said. “If we can collect old toothbrushes, toothpaste tubes and mouthwash bottles through boxes in schools, these products can be turned into plastic for park benches and dog beds.”
Her Honours research focuses on the “monstrous and growing problem” of e-waste.
“Old electronic equipment is one of the most toxic sources of waste in the world, but it also contains valuable precious metals that could be extracted. My research will be assessing legislation and implementation at a local government level to see if we are meeting targets for best practice.”
She urged people with disused computers, mobile phones and other electronic goods to ask retailers about safe disposal options, or to seek out government programs such as TechCollect.
Ms Morris said the USC Environmental Science degree had shown her the breadth of issues and job opportunities available.
She travelled to Indonesia in 2012 (pictured right) after receiving a $53,500 Prime Minister’s Australia Asia Award and said the overseas study and work experience in waste management was invaluable. She also received numerous scholarships at USC.
Ms Morris has contributed greatly to USC and the Sunshine Coast region, including tutoring students, working as a USC student ambassador, volunteering with the USC branch of the Australian Indigenous Mentoring Experience, joining the USC Toastmasters Club and doing community work with Coolum District Coastal Care.
“I was truly passionate about everything I did,” she said. “I wanted to give back because I’m an example of how you can achieve whatever you want in life with the right support.”
— Julie Schomberg