A journey towards zero waste
By Simon Calcinai, Solid Waste Minimisation Services Officer, Āpiha Whakaiti Para Ūtonga
Staring at a bin labelled ‘waste – thank you’, made Maraea Hunia realise the extent to which our systems have been designed to support a disposable culture. “The sign was encouraging us to waste, by thanking us for doing so”.
A waste reduction journey ensued; which, in some ways, lead Maraea back to “how [she] grew up”. The most significant changes occurred during Plastic-Free July 2014 when she all but eliminated single-use items from her lifestyle. The strategy was simple: “Do without one thing, e.g. fizzy drinks, and build off that”.
I first met Maraea in July this year. She had emailed the council asking what provision was made for households that produce 50 to 100 grams of waste per week. After doing my best to address her question (unfortunately, it’s not a common request), I asked if she was willing share her story with readers of On To It. Maraea kindly agreed.
What stood out for me was the normality and simplicity of her approach. Waste reduction is not an obsession, just something that’s been incorporated into her lifestyle. Home composting and the neighbours’ pigs and chickens take care of any organic waste. Maraea recycles, but the focus is on not buying waste in the first place. It takes slightly more time, and requires a basic level of planning and awareness, but the benefits more than make up for any inconvenience. The money saved, thanks to avoiding packaged ‘crap’, is redirected into higher-quality grocery items. This has a flow-on effect: less food waste and a greater incentive to make the most of what she buys.
The farmers’ market, Bin In and a local milk supply provide zero waste options, but her supermarket is also supportive. Deli staff take a tare weight before filling Maraea’s own containers. Incredulous checkout operators sometimes need assurance that Maraea’s ‘ice cream’ actually contains mussels. In typical waste-not fashion, Maraea is slowly working her way through a cache of freezer bags inherited from her father – using them for meat purchases. I’m told the local butcher is ‘primed’ for when she runs out of bags and needs to bring in containers.
There is no open landfill in Kāpiti. Transfer station operators truck our waste out of the district and send most of it to Levin landfill. This is a further motivator for Maraea as she is concerned about that landfill's proximity to the historic marae, Ngātokowaru, in Hōkio.
Kāpiti residents generate about 205 kilograms per person of kerbside refuse per year. Maraea generates about 5kg. The rest of us have some catching up to do!