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Studio portrait photograph of Veena Sahajwalla.

Materials scientist, engineer and innovator
New South Wales | 2022 Australian of the Year

Professor Veena Sahajwalla has pioneered research into waste – turning it into new green materials and products. She is best known for her invention of ‘green steel’ technology, which uses carbon extracted from old tyres to replace coal or coke in steel manufacturing.

In 2018 she launched the first microfactory, establishing a model of recycling that enables businesses and communities to develop commercial opportunities while addressing local waste problems.

Veena is the founding Director of UNSW Centre for Sustainable Materials Research and Technology (SMaRT) and has built a world-class research hub.

Her programs foster innovation and promote collaboration with industry, ensuring that sustainable materials and processes become commercially viable solutions for dealing with waste.

Green ceramic tiles made from recycled waste

Veena Sahajwalla is Australia’s ‘Rubbish Queen’. Born in Mumbai, the industrial capital of India, Veena grew up among a culture of repurposing. It was an experience that defined the celebrated scientist and inventor.

Thanks to her pioneering research and irresistible enthusiasm, she is now inspiring Australians to reconsider materials otherwise destined for landfill and recognise their potential for re-use.

These tiles are created from recycled timber, textiles and glass, and are suitable for use in domestic and commercial buildings. They were manufactured using new technologies at the Green Ceramics MICROfactorie at the University of New South Wales.

Set of coloured tiles on display.

Green ceramic tiles from Veena Sahajwalla

Everything has value

In Mumbai there is no such thing as waste; everything has a value and everything has potential. I’d see people working, repairing shoes, guys carting stuff around on their heads, like television sets, all kinds of heavy things that they might have picked up. Even today there is a big part of the economy that operates off repairing things. It was fascinating for me.

A real buzz

I get a real buzz from looking at materials and discovering how they could be manufactured into new products. We can create a whole new economy built on the re-use of waste. This really excites me!

A different approach

We need a change of mindset that values our materials and challenges our throw-away mentality.

This exhibition was developed by the National Museum of Australia in collaboration with the National Australia Day Council. Portrait images supplied by the National Australia Day Council.

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