Craig Reucassel is no stranger to stunts and brushes with the law. With The Chaser infamous for its controversies, such skirmishes for comedic effect are virtually second nature.
Even on his upcoming ABC factual series, he treads a thin blue line -but refuses to say whether he crosses it.
“I’m not going to comment on that!” he told TV Tonight. “I don’t think we broke the law, but when we were doing dumpster-diving our ‘granny’ had very strict rules about where she does and doesn’t do it.”
The ‘dumpster-diving granny’ who supplements her weekly groceries by raiding supermarket waste bins, is just one of the portions of War on Waste, in which Reucassel is on a mission to address the 52 mega-tonnes of waste we produce every year.
Over three episodes he uncovers shocking truths about Australia’s waste industry and asks can we all do a little bit better?
“It’s not a very glamorous topic, but it’s amazing how many people said they were fascinated by it. More than I thought would be,” he reveals.
“Some people are really motivated by the environmental side of it and some, interestingly enough, have a lot of scepticism about recycling and stuff.
“There’s a lot of stuff we don’t know about. Out of sight, out of mind… you chuck it in the bin, and it goes somewhere.”
Based on a UK format, the KEO Films-produced doco begins with ten families in a Sydney neighbourhood challenged to live as “waste free” as they possibly can.
“There were 1 or 2 people in the street who were really informed. But once we got them together they would cross-pollinate the ideas. They started a Facebook page and swapped ideas. We came back a week later to ask them the next question and they were already well and truly passed that. They got into it themselves, and self-motivated a lot of it,” he continues.
“But throughout the whole process there was a lot of misinformation as well, which is not surprising. Every council has different rules. (From) what you were told 10 years ago, things have changed now. We’ve become more advanced.
“A lot of the changes you can make are relatively easy and you can have quite a big impact on your bin. Some people go zero-waste, which is a real achievement.”
“Cosmetic standards are an issue in a lot of countries.”
Reucassel seems especially incensed by ‘cosmetic standards’ which see nutritious fruit and veg disposed at farms because they don’t reflect an aesthetic.
“Cosmetic standards are an issue in a lot of countries. I will be fascinated to see what progress we can get on that front. Farmers and supermarkets blame the consumers, but there’s a bit more of a complex relationship there.
“There’s fruit and veg that never leaves the farm because of cosmetic standards, whoever comes up with it, is never factored into the waste of the supermarket of that particular area. But it’s still created by that industry. You just never see it.”
Applying Chaser-like stunts to the storytelling, Reucassel hides a GPS device in bags of empty plastic bags to try and follow their trail and see if they end up being recycled by supermarkets.
“It’s a complex story. There’s good signs and there is definitely recycling going on. But it’s not a solution. Tip of the iceberg stuff. Different stores do different things and end up in different places –not necessarily even in Australia,” he says.
“There was senior resistance.”
He confronts both Woolworths and Coles to hear corporate measures on reducing waste. But they are not exactly in a hurry to participate to talk about measures to offer imperfect produce, to avoid it being disposed at farms.
“There was senior resistance. But to be fair to them they chatted, and it’s a complex story. Some things were good, but some things where they could be a lot better,” he explains.
“Some people claim it’s a ‘greenwash’ or a PR stunt. There’s a theory that it’s an easy way for supermarkets to palm off excess food.
“I don’t think it’s entirely that, but it’s a balancing act. There are genuine links there, but it certainly doesn’t solve all the problems of food waste.”
Reucassel also dives underwater to view submerged waste first hand, fills a tram with coffee cups to represent over 1 billion ending up in landfill every year and stages a Martin Place stunt to illustrate the volume of clothing hitting our clothing charities.
But there is a method in his madness. Making waste a palatable topic may just have the desired effect of changing the habits of some Australians and calling some corporates to attention. ABC hopes to film a fourth episode later this year to include community changes.
“My land-fill bin is certainly a lot lighter than it used to be. We compost and there are a lot of different ways you can cut down your use and recycle.”
War on Waste airs 8:30pm Tuesdays on ABC.