I want you to do an exercise with me. Open your rubbish bin. I’ll wait. 

Is there plastic in there? I get it. Sometimes throwing plastic in the bin can seem easier than solving the complicated web of rules that is our recycling system. It’s hard enough keeping up with the seven types of plastic; it’s worse when our curbside recycling only takes two or three of them. And what constitutes a soft plastic? Where do you take it? Why do they only sell hummus in polypropylene (PP5)? 

Let’s dig a little deeper. Figuratively, not literally, although I won’t stop you. Everything in there can go somewhere other than landfill, and if it can’t, don’t buy it. 

Can we talk about the Tetra Pak carton for a second? With the rise of dairy milk alternatives comes the rise of Tetra Pak cartons going to landfill. I can’t count the number of times I’ve had to be the bearer of bad news and pull one out of the cardboard recycling bin and explain that they’re made from a combination of aluminium, polyethylene, and paper. 

Don’t worry, if you’re panicking because you just realized they’re not cardboard, you’re not alone, and there’s good news. Although they can’t go in your black bins, they’re now recycled in New Zealand. Into building materials no less. 

Now, this might not be groundbreaking to some of you, but for others, it’s not common knowledge. So, if we don’t already have home-compost, refillable milk bottles, and an empty rubbish bin; where do we start? 

At the Environment Centre.

With the climate emergency we’re facing, there should be no excuses, only solutions; and the Environment Centre have kicked it up a gear. 

Yes, they recycle your Tetra Pak cartons. Yes, they recycle your electronic waste. Yes, they recycle the plastics you don’t know what to do with (don’t put them in the bin, soft plastics are now being made into fenceposts). Yes, they specialise in waste minimisation (21 specialisations to be precise), but no, that’s not all they do.

Emma Horgan-Heke

I talked to Emma Horgan-Heke, the new general manager at the Environment Centre, to ask her what she wants people to know about what they do. While you might have seen Environment Centre volunteers sorting your waste at events; and know them as the place to take the stuff you can’t find a bin for, they’re doing more than that now.

Emma is humble, so she won’t take the credit, but I could read between the lines when she talked about all the new things the Environment Centre is doing to solve the climate crisis in Hawke’s Bay. A new five-year strategic plan (you can find it on their website) developed by Emma and the Environment Centre Board, sees the charity develop three core focuses: food resilience, water resilience, and circular economy. 

Emma comes from a project management role in community housing, and has a background in regenerative solutions, so it makes sense that she brought a wider lens to the Environment Centre. No one would disagree with Emma when she talks about now being the crucial time to solve climate change, and that we need to do more, faster, and work collaboratively. 

Emma argues that we’re not doing enough in Hawke’s Bay or New Zealand, and the Centre needs to grow to achieve that. I like ambition.

While they’re focused on growth into new areas, they continue to develop their specialist recycling, including solutions for polystyrene (hallelujah!). They have also introduced waste audits for businesses, and they’ve secured the funding for a mobile wash station (Wash Against Waste), so events don’t have to offer single-use serve ware. 

How does a charity achieve all this? They’re supported by the Ministry for the Environment and Hastings District Council, but it takes seven streams to get them to where they are: donations, grants, contracts, memberships, fundraising events, sponsorships (i.e., Tetra Pak, Otis Milk), and volunteer hours. Every dollar counts, and so does every hour, especially when the goal is to save the world.

The Environment Centre has 10 employees and 90 volunteers, ranging from retired electricians to Hohepa residents. During a time of growth, there is always a need for more support. Whether it’s volunteering at a Zero Waste event, or helping people solve their recycling and upcycling enquiries, there is a role for everyone: including you. Yes, that’s a call to action!

I asked Emma to talk me through their move into food and water resilience. Her answer was quick and clear. 

Hawke’s Bay is a major player in agriculture and horticulture, yet we still have water issues. The Environment Centre knows they can make an impact on water with advocacy and education, and as with most recent innovations, Covid has drawn attention to the fact that we grow so much locally, yet there are still empty shelves in the supermarkets. Any work they can do to make our systems more resilient, they will; like bringing together 12 partners to create a climate and food resilience hub. Right now, Emma can’t say more, so watch this space.

Now, don’t worry, this growth doesn’t mean they’re going to move away from the core community work they do, and step completely into the big picture. The growth is about achieving alignment in environmental resilience, so the results are sustainable. If you’re working to build a circular economy, and minimise waste, it makes sense to have a self-reliant and self-sustaining region.

When I asked Emma what she would say if she only had five seconds to make a difference, she went straight to the rubbish bin (you can see where I was going with my exercise). If she could remind everyone of how much can be recycled (70%-80%), we wouldn’t end up with so much waste in our bins. Now might be a good time to mention their popular composting and bokashi bin workshops they run with Hastings District Council (if you’re interested, they subsidise half the bin cost). 

Whether it’s at home or at work, we need to take responsibility for our waste. In San Francisco, residents pay for every ounce of rubbish they leave out for collection. In Hawke’s Bay, our rubbish bins are bigger than all our recycling bins combined. If we can find a way to reduce, reuse, or recycle everything we consume, we would make a huge [it could be measurable] difference. 

There are no excuses, only solutions; even candle wax can be recycled into fire starters. Which gave me an idea. 

Last year, some of the Young Enterprise Scheme (YES) teams turned fabric waste from the fashion industry into hats and bibs. Some of them turned home compost into plant fertiliser. What if every team worked with the Environment Centre to reduce waste with a product or service? I have no doubt we would see some breakthrough innovations. Three years ago, a team of St John’s College students made concrete benches incorporating plastic bottles. What if this year we found a way to turn polystyrene packaging into something useful?

The Environment Centre acts, educates, and advocates. We’re lucky to have an organisation like this in our community, and even luckier that they’re unstoppable. 

Speaking of advocating; I have it on good authority that we can expect Napier City Council to announce the inclusion of PP5 plastic in the curbside recycling scheme. Honestly, I’m relieved I won’t have to learn how to perfect home-made yoghurt, or hummus as good as Turkish Kitchen. 

We can all make a difference. While the Environment Centre grows in new directions, so can we, and here are five simple ways to start.

1. Every household needs a champion. Be the person to take the lead on soft plastics. Start a bag and find your nearest recycling location. 

2. Do a rubbish bin audit. If you have kids in the house, get them to do it with you (or for you). You’ll be surprised by how much you can recycle if you make the time and space.

3. Look for a product with the most sustainable packaging option. We can’t all make cream cheese at home, so buy it in the foil or card packaging.

4. Encourage people to boycott products made from non-recyclable packaging. If it only comes in styrofoam, it’s not worth it. If no one buys it, they’ll get the message!

5. Start a bench top compost bin. Food waste in landfill is a major contributor to greenhouse gasses. If we compost it properly, we’re reducing emissions and giving back to the soil. 

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1 Comment

  1. We are fortunate to have the Environment Centre to help process some of our waste. Birdwoods has always been and continues to be as low-waste as possible. It is expensive, time consuming and often frustrating, but then it is absolutely the right thing to do – throwing everything into the landfill is just plain wrong and our future generations will pay for this convenience dearly.

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