Veena Sahajwalla awarded 2022 NSW Australian of the Year

Veena Sahajwalla named 2022 NSW Australian of the Year


Professor Veena Sahajwalla, the founding director of the UNSW Centre for Sustainable Materials Research and Technology (SMaRT), has been named the 2022 NSW Australian of the Year.

The waste research scientist, engineer and Australian Research Council laureate was announced as the recipient at a live-streamed ceremony on Monday night at Sydney’s Luna Park.

As an immigrant from Egypt, and a mother of five, Professor Sahajwallashe created the not-for-profit Islamic Women’s Welfare Association (IWWA) in 2012 to cater to the welfare needs of Muslim women, providing workshops and seminars on issues including domestic violence, child-cade, employment and public health.

In 2018, she launched the world’s first e-waste microfactory which transforms the components from e-waste items such as discarded smart phones and laptops into valuable materials for re-use. 

The following year, she launched the first plastics microfactory, which turns plastic waste into high-quality 3D printing filaments, and where each module is used to create a singular product.

Earlier this month, Sahajwallashe wrote an opinion piece for The Sydney Morning Herald as part of the publication’s Sustainability Summit about using waste as a resource to help deliver the power and materials needed for a sustainable future.

“We must better manage the resources we have already mined,” she wrote.

“At SMaRT, we have already shown we can reform materials embedded in various waste batteries, such as cobalt and nickel.”

“e-waste materials that contain copper, manganese, zinc, and various rare earth elements can also be recycled and reformed with technologies developed or being developed by the SMaRT Centre.”

“Recycling e-waste not only helps us be more sustainable. In this COVID-19 era, when global supply chains are constrained, waste materials can also strengthen our sovereign manufacturing capability as well.”

“We need a change of mindset that values our materials and challenges our throw-away mentality. It is good to see that new government policies list protecting rare earths as a national priority and that there is a renewed focus across all levels of government to better manage our waste, recycling and manufacturing resources.”

NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet released a statement, acknowledging the recipients as embodying “The Australian Spirit.”

“Despite life’s challenges, they have led the way in founding social, environmental and life-saving initiatives,” he wrote.

“All are selfless in their dedication, and their individual stories remind us all that we have the power to help others, to bring about real change and to improve the lives of many in the community.” 

NSW Senior Australian of the Year was awarded to 72-year-old Abla Kadous – the president of the Islamic Women’s Welfare Association — an organisation which Kadous founded almost two decades ago.

In 2017, she received the Muslim Lifetime Achievement Award for over 25 years of service to the Muslim Community, and in 2019, was named the NSW Senior Volunteer of the Year. 

NSW Local Hero was awarded to Shanna Whan, the founder and chief executive of national charity Sober in the Country. 

Last year, Whan presented a TEDxTalk, speaking about the ‘casual alcoholism’ epidemic, and her goal of educating rural and regional Australia about the devastating effects of untreated alcoholism. 

“Alcoholism does not discriminate, so why should we?” she said. 

The founder of Sober in the Country opened up about her struggles with alcohol addiction and her hopes to change how change how alcohol is discussed and used in rural Australia. 

“[Alcoholism] destroyed my self-confidence and my sense of self-worth was deteriorating,” she told ABC News.

“We glorify drinking alcohol in the bush by judging a man by his ability to consume a certain quantity of booze, yet alienate and stigmatise alcoholics.”

“I don’t think that it can ever be safe for me to pick up a drink again, but I don’t feel the need anymore.”

“I am no longer affected by what others do around me during social events and can safely socialise with a soda while others enjoy their alcoholic beverages.”

Whan, along with Professor Sahajwalla and the other recipients of the Awards will join other state winners on January 25 next year to receive their awards at a formal ceremony in Canberra. 

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