The 3 R’s Plus Some More

Editor’s Note: This is my regular column in the Wanganui Chronicle.


In the last two weeks we have seen a number of pieces in the Chronicle on waste management, kerbside recycling, composting and the 3 R’s: Reduce-Reuse-Recycle. In eco-thrifty renovation we engage in a lot of reuse – often referred to as repurposing – as well as retrofitting and redesign.

One major aim of eco-thrifty renovation is to reduce power bills, indoor moisture, draughts, and respiratory illness caused by living in cold, damp homes. To be honest, eco-renovation hardly involves recycling, and since I have been actively recycling my entire life thanks to positive role modeling by my parents, I don’t ever really think about it. It’s just automatic.

On the occasion that I do think about recycling I am actually thinking about designing programmes that promote and enhance it. One example of this is the events recycling model that I developed in 2011 that later came to be known as Zero Waste Events. This service – with success levels that would make a German blush – was built on over 20 years of experience designing and managing award-winning school and municipal waste management programmes in the US.

Our school’s programme was so well recognized that I received a regular stream of phone calls from other schools wanting advice, and even the University of New Hampshire and ‘Ivy League’ Dartmouth College sought advice to improve their programmes. So you can imagine my surprise when I came to live here over four years ago and tried for the first time to engage positively with council only to experience another R: Rejection.

Here is some background. My wife and I had such a positive experience working with the excellent WDC building officers during our renovation, and the young man working reception at front-of-house was so friendly that I assumed all of my dealings with council would be along the same lines. The eager receptionist engaged me in conversation during my many visits sifting my way through the NZ Building Code with assistance from helpful on-call building officers.

During a number of our chats the receptionist suggested I contact certain council officers involved in areas where I had experience. I left a number of hand-written notes saying basically, “Hi, I’m new in town and have experience in XYZ and would like to contribute to the city.” This is where the rejection came in, although a fairer description may be declined-to-reply. I’d understand if it were a one-off, but it was the first of many occasions.

The purpose of this story is not to rehash my introduction to WDC’s communication style, but to provide context for an ‘outsider’s critique’ of the Chronicle article on low uptake by residents of fee-based kerbside recycling. At risk of becoming the Shamubeel Eauqub of waste management, here goes.

With all due respect to those quoted in John Maslin’s well-written article, I found many statements confusing and contradictory of statements previously published. To begin with, the low uptake of fee-based kerbside recyling should have surprised no one. Did the headline “Locals reluctant to recycle at a cost” come as a revelation to any readers? I’d love to see the projected participation rate and on what research and data it was determined.

Twenty years ago I attended a recycling conference and learned a few fundamental things about the role of government and basic human behaviour: Recycling is seen as good for society and the environment, and therefore government’s role is to remove barriers to citizen participation. Cost is a primary barrier. Surprised?

We hear WDC is reluctant to subsidize recycling because of the money, but council regularly chooses to subsidize many economic, social and artistic programmes instead. Previous articles on the Resource Recovery Centre included the emphatic statement: No rates were used to develop the facility. Yet Councillor Rob Vinsen reports in Maslin’s article that council’s contribution had been $150,000. This contradicts earlier statements made by officers and elected officials. Why the discrepancy and what’s the truth?

The truth is we live in a participatory democracy and it is our right (some would say duty) to engage with the government and to question poor design. Take a look around our diverse city and think about what is local government’s “core business” and what are the “nice-to-haves.”

Ring, text, email, write or talk to your elected representatives. Write a letter to our vibrant local newspaper. Go ahead and have a good winge if you feel something about our community is not good enough. Let councilors know you are paying attention and remind them that they are halfway to re-election.


Peace, Estwing

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