Professor Veena Sahajwalla: Making tidal waves in recycling science

Our 2022 NSW Australian of the Year, Professor Veena Sahajwalla, is one of Australia’s best-known scientists and internationally recognised for her pioneering work in revolutionising recycling science. As part of our 2022 Australian of the Year series, Veena talks about drawing inspiration from Mumbai’s bazaars, her five-year goal and her biggest triumph.

Professor Veena Sahajwalla’s eyes light up when she talks about growing up in Mumbai, India. One of her cherished memories is trawling the bazaars with her mother and soaking up the spirit of creative entrepreneurship that thrives there.

“What was truly exciting was watching people make a living out of fixing broken things through sheer creativity and curiosity,” Veena says. “I was very inspired by them. I also saw the value in repairing something which is why, to a certain extent, I hate throwing anything away.”

I hope that by sharing my childhood stories, I can inspire young people to start thinking about science, engineering, waste and recycling as a potential career.

Veena too is an inspiration in her own right. Her father was a civil engineer and Veena’s regular visits to his construction sites sparked her interest in materials science. That led to a master’s degree and PhD in engineering, and being tapped on the shoulder by Australia’s national science and research agency, CSIRO.

Meet other extraordinary Australians

Read the inspiring stories of our other recipients and discover how they’re making a profound and positive contribution to their communities.

In 2005, Veena won the prestigious Eureka Prize for her invention of green steel, an eco-friendly process for using recycled tyres in steel production. Her invention has been patented around the world and has diverted millions of old tyres from landfills. She is renowned for pioneering the high temperature transformation of waste in the production of a new generation of ‘green materials.’ In 2018 Veena launched the world's first e-waste MICROfactory and in 2019 she launched her plastics and green ceramics MICROfactories. A model that she hopes to soon roll out across Australia and the world.

Veena is currently the founding director of the Centre for Sustainable Materials Research and Technology at the University of New South Wales. In November 2021, she was named 2022 NSW Australian of the Year for her work in pioneering research into waste.

“I’m humbled by the recognition and thrilled by the opportunities this award will give me,” she says. “I see my role as helping bring science and technology to the forefront so every Australian and industries that are working on a waste recycling solution can achieve their own milestones for recycling.”