Xtreme Zero Waste in the small community of Raglan, on the central west coast of the North Island, was one of three places I knew I had to visit in New Zealand. It is a community organization similar to Eco-Cycle in Boulder, Colorado, where I volunteered for several years.
Todd and I took a tour of the facility, and then I emailed some questions to Rick Thorpe, one of Xtreme Waste’s founders and the current relationship manager. In response to my question about selecting materials to recycle, he said: “Our goal is zero waste so we are always looking for more ideas to divert materials. We use the waste hierarchy to guide our efforts and put a large emphasis on not producing waste in the first place. If it is produced then repair, reuse take priority over recycling. We are currently diverting 75 percent (by volume) and hope to increase this to 85 percent with the new food waste collection.”
Waste Collection in the United States
Coloradans divert 11 percent of their solid waste. The U.S. average is above 30 percent. San Francisco is one of the few U.S. cities that diverts around 70 percent of its waste.
Waste Collection in Waikato District, North Island, New Zealand
Xtreme Waste picks up the usual types of paper and containers curbside and is expanding into food scraps. In addition, people can drop off those same items and others that many cities don’t recycle, such as electronics, metal, and secondhand goods. Anything that can’t be recycled goes into the roll-off containers between the bay and the wood yard.
What I loved most about Xtreme Waste was its commitment to providing affordable used housewares and windows and furniture to locals. Our tour guide, Nenya, took us first to the library of used books and the thrift store. Many people in Raglan are unemployed or earn little money but must pay housing costs as high as those in nearby, larger cities.
After we toured the recycling bay, Nenya described how XZW was established. It is located on the site of an old landfill that leaked toxins into the harbor and contaminated the fishery. After its closure in 1998, the community converted the site into a waste transfer station while creating a business plan for zero waste to landfill. As part of that process, Xtreme Waste was established in 2000 and landed its first contract with the local council to set up a recycling center as well as curbside pickup.
Also in 1998, the landfill was capped with clay, and a wetland system designed to prevent leachate from reaching the harbor was put in place. Xtreme Waste manages the ponds above the wetlands. According to Thorpe, “Water quality is monitored by our Regional Council and they have shown an increase in quality with virtually no traces of metals and other contaminants. This happened quite quickly after the closing of the landfill and establishment of the wetlands (within three years).”
You wouldn’t know there used to be a landfill on the site from appearances. Behind the office and metal yard on one side is an expanse of forest, and green hills go down to the harbor on the other. “We have planted close to 8,000 trees,” Thorpe told me, “which were eco-sourced local species known for their value to wildlife and forming a new forest. Since replanting and predator control* we have noticed an increase in all common native forest birds as well as kereru (wood pigeon), kaka (forest parrot) and karearea (falcon). These species are all indictors of a recovering ecosystem and the increase in pigeon numbers bodes well for future seed distribution.”
I did notice some gorse had invaded the replanted area, but otherwise the surrounding forest looked healthy.
As we continued our tour through the wood yard and worm composting area, Nenya told us that the community in Raglan is motivated to recycle on a large scale. The “X-Man,” a character created by staff member Paul Murray, is much in demand at schools in the North Island’s Waikato district (perhaps one-fifth of the island).
We wanted to buy this table made from skis, but it wouldn’t fit in our luggage. You can convert it into a bench by bringing down the top.
Tires are put to good use all around the site, as planters, as walls, as steps.
Locals can buy bikes here, or old computers. Electronics that can’t be reused, Thorpe told me, are sent to “one of only 3 ethical ewaste recyclers in New Zealand—E-Cycle in Auckland. They split the screens, capture gas, recycle leaded glass, other glass, metals and plastics.”
The green waste site, located closer to the entrance, was the most extensive I’d ever seen. One machine chips tree branches and such, producing mulch for garden beds, while another machine can do a second pass to provide a finer material. There was steam coming off one of the large piles, and she said if we stuck our hands inside the pile, it would feel hot.
We returned to the office and our car via a path over the replanted landfill and enjoyed the views of the forest and the harbor. Nenya noted that Xtreme Waste plans to expand their office using materials dropped off at their site and the labor of staff and other people in the community. (Most of the other buildings have been built on-site from reused materials.)
Future Plans, for Raglan and Beyond
Beth: Have you recently negotiated another contract with the Waikato District Council?
Rick Thorpe: We have just been offered a further ten-year contract and an extension of services to include food waste kerbside collections in Raglan and support for establishing two other community recycle centres in other parts of our District.
Beth: Are there any upcoming goals or projects you’d like to mention?
Thorpe: We have some great examples of corporate/council/community collaboration happening with our contracts in Auckland. We are also exploring this model in Raglan and our District. We see real benefits working in this way and using each other’s strengths.
Beth: I read that Auckland plans to achieve zero waste by 2040. Do you think that is a realistic goal, or too conservative?
Thorpe: Definitely hard to reach by this date but that’s not really the intention. More about changing current ways of managing waste and getting organisation and rate payers to invest in new services.
Beth: A woman in Kaikoura told me they were the first zero waste community in the world. Do you agree with that?
Thorpe: Probably not. Community Business & Environment Centre (CBEC) in Kaitaia (Northland) would have been the first organisation in the country to base their business plan on zero waste. One of the founders of CBEC was Warren Snow, who established zero waste in NZ with Gerry Gallespie.
Mentioned in This Post
predator control: New Zealand’s only native mammal is a bat. All others, such as stoats, rats, cats, and possums, have not been kind to native birds. Xtreme Waste traps them to give bird populations a chance to recover.
Community Recycling Network (from the website): “CRN is an organisation representing Community Enterprises focused on Zero Waste with members from Kaitaia to Bluff.”
This article has more on the history of Xtreme Zero Waste.