Kate Tan and Kamyar Zamanzadeh don’t view themselves as ‘climate champions’. As far as they’re concerned, they were just a couple of clued-up employees who spotted an obvious solution to an obvious problem.
That problem was used cookware, and what to do with it when it reaches end-of-life.
Working as product managers at Tefal, Australia’s largest cookware brand, Kate and Kam saw this issue firsthand. They knew their colleagues in Europe had started implementing more circular practices in their work – including setting up a recycling initiative – and they thought: ‘why can’t we do that here?’
“We knew about the difficulties,” Kate tells WorkforClimate over a Zoom call from Tefal HQ. “We knew that [the program] was new here. So we took it on ourselves as a project for the company, but also as a personal challenge. We wanted to do something ground-breaking, something different.”
The scheme echoes the one set up by Kate and Kam’s European counterparts: bins are installed in major department stores, and consumers are encouraged to drop off their warped, burned, stained and twisted cookware, which is then recycled.
“And you’d think in a developed country, like Australia, we would already be doing this,” says Kam. “But nobody was.”
"We took it on ourselves as a project for the company, but also as a personal challenge. We wanted to do something ground-breaking, something different."
Act Together is technically the first dedicated cookware recycling program in Australia. Kate and Kam spearheaded the project in their spare time, on top of their regular work. It was a serious logistical challenge. In recent years, the entire concept of recycling has come into question, and in the wake of high-profile recycling scandals like REDCycle, it’s even more important for companies to properly vet suppliers, and make sure their products are actually staying out of landfill.
“It took us a good 18 months from conception through to launch,” Kate says. “The marketing aspect was actually not the difficult part. The hard part was finding the right partners, and organising all the logistics. Who we’re going to work with, how we’re going to do it, who’s going to pick it up, what’s going to happen after that. Trying to conceptualise every step of the journey.”
Reputable recycling company EcoCycle were brought on as a partner, and Kate and Kam worked closely with the team at Myer to sell the project through senior leadership. “Getting management and partner approval was the last 25 per cent of the process,” Kam laughs. “The other 75 per cent was all behind the scenes.”
Surprisingly, quite a lot of cookware can be successfully recycled, no matter how much bolognese has been cooked in it. Aluminium, stainless steel, carbon steel, cast iron and copper can all be turned into new products.
Act Together is a pretty simple scheme. Customers can bring their cookware to one of 14 Myer stores around the country. (“Any brand, too!” Kate says. “Even our competitors, it doesn’t matter.”) EcoCycle collects the metal, breaks it down, sorts and recycles it. Tefal have even launched a recycled cookware range, called Eco Respect, to try and close the loop.
“It was really the serendipitous meeting of two people in the company,” Kate says. “We knew it could be done, because Europe had been doing it for years. Then our management agreed to it, and our retail partner agreed to it. So it’s really just one of those things where all the stars aligned.”
For Kam, it’s all about changing systems to spark sustainable change. “Now, when we walk into the stores, and see the bins up and running, and everyone coming in and recycling their cookware, it feels like a real accomplishment.”
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