Global Resource Recovery addresses gender gap in science and research

There’s been a gender gap throughout the years at all levels of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines all over the world, according to the United Nations.

Even though women have made progress towards increasing their participation in higher education, they are still under-represented in these fields.

But Global Resource Recovery (GRR), part of Cleanway Group, is playing its role in tipping the scales.

Chemical engineers Virnushee Balendran and Amy Cao, and Chemist Doctorate Ramneet Kaur are leading the charge as the company invests in cutting-edge research to treat industrial waste.

“It’s very hard to stay with science,” says George Hatzimihalis, GRR Chief Technical Officer. “Virnushee, Ramneet and Amy have not only stuck with it but made it their own. They’re great mentors for other women.”

Virnushee, GRR Operations Manager, was one of only two women in a class of 30 studying a Bachelor of Chemical Engineering and a Bachelor of Pharmaceutical Science at Monash University.

While a majority of her class moved into data analogy after graduating, Virnushee was keen to put science into practice. Within five and a half years she’s progressed from the laboratory at GRR to running the plant.

She says she’s driven by GRR’s commitment to research and development to close the loop on waste and find a potential source of reusable products. 

“We have certain recipes to look for contaminants in waste and treat them,” she says. “But we’re always looking at what we can do to develop those processes to improve our efficiencies.

“We want to be able to provide our clients with a full waste management solution. We try not to send any of our waste to landfill.”

Virnushee says GRR is licensed to manage a range of chemical and hazardous wastes for mining, manufacturing and infrastructure companies. It’s part of her role to look at new ways to process and treat different waste streams.

George says it’s about unlocking the raw materials and giving them another useful life that’s economically and commercially viable. He references GRR’s success in black oil and glycol recycling as to why research and development remains key.

“We’ve driven change in terms of regulation, waste minimisation and cleaner production,” he says. “Glycol recycling, transforming coolants and other glycol-based waste into a purified product that can be reused, was not economical when we started. Now it is.

“I believe every problem has an opportunity and a solution. Virnushee, Ramneet and Amy have taken that on and provided their knowledge and new ideas.

“I’m very proud they’ve taken the baton and made it better.”

For Dr Ramneet, making things better is a key reason she’s remained with GRR. 

The Production and Laboratory Manager admits she initially took the job when she’d finished university because it was a great opportunity to build on her skills learned in India. Shortly after she started, GRR was involved in the clean-up of a factory fire at an industrial site that spewed toxic smoke across much of Melbourne and a large oil spill. 

“More than 75 per cent of the water from those incidents was treated here, at GRR,” Ramneet says. “That’s when I realised the waste industry is what we should all be focusing on. It’s a chance to give back to the community and look after our future.

“Treatment and sustainability are our main goals. We aim to recycle a majority of the waste that comes on our site.”

With a Bachelor of Science, Master of Science in Chemistry, Master of Philosophy and PhD in Organic Chemistry from Jammu University in India, Ramneet brings more technical experience to GRR to help with resource recovery.

Amy, a chemical engineer, agrees that being able to contribute to improving a community and environment is a big motivator.

She completed an internship at GRR while studying a Bachelor of Chemical Engineering and a Bachelor of Pharmaceutical Science and was later offered a full-time position as a laboratory and production chemist. 

In the lab she tests and samples different waste types, among other jobs, but is also involved in the research and development of new processes and products.

“It’s amazing how science, and chemistry, can help with sustainability and recovery.

“It’s motivating to know that I can contribute my skills and knowledge to do something that will make a difference.”

“We’re working on innovative methods to recycle industrial waste that in five-to-ten years could be the next big thing,” Virnushee adds.  

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