Category Archives: wanganui


I appears that many global forces of unsustainability have been swirling of late. The synergy with which these forces interact, and the non-linear effects make predictions near impossible. Most economists and politicians appear to be in utter denial of anything other than a return to “growth” and “business as usual.” (I’d say that is the one place we are not headed.) But one economist in particular seems to be able to recognize potential problems better than others.
You may recall that Roubini was the one who accurately predicted the financial crisis of 2008. Are you going to believe him, or someone like Greenspan or Bernanke or Geitner who had no clue?
While the right mixture of forces can, indeed, make storms perfect, the right combination of design, communication and education can make solutions perfect. For example, this weekend the ECO School helped the YMCA manage the waste stream for the Connecting Families Day.
No, not that YMCA, this YMCA.
With over 20 years of experience in award-winning resource recovery programs, we felt confident about working with the Y with the goal of a zero waste event. I’ll write more about the mechanical details in another post, but the guiding principles for success when managing events such as this are:
1) Plan ahead. Sometimes called “pre-cycling,” this means thinking about the entire waste stream of the event and planning accordingly. For example, we ordered compostable cups for both hot and cold drinks. Zero waste.
2) Design. (“Failure to design is to design to fail.”) The physical lay out of collection containers is important. They must be clustered together. For example, we had bins for compost, paper recycling, drinks bottles recycling, and miscelaneous rubbish all together at one station.
3) Communication. This comes in a couple of forms. A) Signage must be brief, clear, colorful and at eye-level for both children and adults. B) Announcements can be used to remind attendees that this is a zero waste event and their efforts are crucial for success.
4) Education. Including the why and how of resource recovery is important to give people reason to act. Our education effort took two forms this weekend. A) I manned the resource recovery station to interact with people and monitor quality control. B) Our friend, Hadi, provided home composting advice at the Sustainable Whanganui table.

5) Quality control. Essential, essential, essential. No one wants to pick through dirty bins afterwards. Make sure everything goes in its proper place during the event. As mentioned above, quality control can and should go hand-in-hand with education.
By employing the above strategy, we were able to divert over 95% of the waste stream from landfill while role modeling positive behaviours to families. Those are world-class results. Not bad for weekend work.
More details on our composting process in a later post.
Peace, Estwing

Beach Logging

I have been splitting quite a bit of wood for our two wood stoves over the past year and figured that leaving the rural lifestyle behind me and stepping into the suburbs for a few months might offer a change of pace. This dream came to an abrupt end with the three day rainstorm we had last weekend. The Whaganui river swelled into a churning brown monster laden with debris that were belched into the ocean. I thought twice before I took a swim in New Zealand’s agricultural run-off, but figured it was all part of the experience and plunged in. Over the next twenty-four hours the beach was transformed from a smooth black sand ribbon, laced with footprints and ATV tracks, to the remnants of a clear cut gone wrong.

Whole trees were washed up and stacked randomly amongst one another, leaving little room for my daily swim routine. So began my new career as a beach logger.

Nelson and I fire up our skidder and rumble down to the parking lot. Selecting only the finest wood for burning, we proceed to load the roof rack with logs of various sizes and up to eight meters long. Roping it all down, we headed for home.

The poor Subaru was riding low as we lumbered down the street, branches trailing close to the pavement. The four police cars we passed along the way seemed more concerned with catching hard criminals and drunks than busting us for doing a little beach clearing. Safely home, we unloaded without a scratch to the paint job. The wood now sits in a pile in the yard, awaiting the arrival of the multi-fuel stove and outdoor pizza oven.

-John the Intern

Editor’s Note: John the Intern arrived to us, straight off a lobster boat in Maine, last Friday. He has been disappointed in the rainy New Zealand summer he’s experienced thus far. But it beats the wintery thundersnows back home. He’ll be in New Zealand until May, working with us and traveling to other sites. We’ve coerced him into writing some blog posts as part of his interning duties, so you can look forward to hearing more from him in the future.

Answer: Bike On A Bike

Question: How does one return a borrowed bike when their own bike is their only other mode of transportation?
Here’s a product for all of your carbon-neutral bike transportation needs.

Fine print: Must have calves of steel and a sturdy backpack for successful performance. Do not attempt with folding bike on bottom. Dutiful husband not included.

You saw it here first people. Now, don’t go running out trying to market this brain child. We are trademarking this revolutionary technology as we speak. Also in the works: furniture on a bike, seedlings on a bike, and wife on a bike.

Editors note: After substantial research, it turns out that the market for these products is extremely limited. Turns out there are significantly easier ways to transport large items.

In all seriousness, living car free presents some very real challenges for us. We rely heavily on our fleet of bikes: the little folder; the hand-made green bike; the silver road bike; and our B.O.B. trailer. And I cannot express just how very thankful we are that we now live in a flat coastal town. Finding motivation to ride this 6k into town is much easier than it was to find the motivation in Raglan where the 6k involved riding up the side of a mountain. But, as easy as the trip is, riding after dark, in the rain, or with a huge load can be dangerous and inefficient.

We also love that we live two blocks from the bust stop, and that the bus runs about a dozen times a day. We’ve done our laundry, grocery shopping, and even transported timber back from town on the bus. I’ve made a little group of commuting friends who seem to ride the same routes as I do regularly, mostly older or mentally handicapped folks, or both. My favorite is an older Maori gent named Tui, who shouts a big “There she is!” every time I board, and then proceeds to tell the rest of the passengers “She’s American, you know?”. Not sure whether that’s meant as a warning or a kudos. Either way, I like to think of him as my bus boyfriend. Don’t tell the hubs. But, as nice as the bus is, the last bus is at 5:10pm and there are no buses on Sundays. What is up with that Wanganui District Council?

So really, if we want to do anything in the evenings, or transport large items. We are at the mercy of the generosity of friends. And they have been extremely generous. If we even mention that we might want to pick something up in town, we have several offers of people who are willing to help us. Heck, even our new neighbor over the back fence offered us her car after watching us carry a load of lumber back from the bus. This offer would have been more useful just a few minutes earlier, but its nice that she put it out there. But, its not sustainable environmentally or socially to rely on people shuttling us back and forth to town.

So we are left with some options. One option is to set up a barter system with one of our friends or neighbors who has a car. If we set up some kind of car share system, then with some planning we could eliminate the extra trips involved in shuttling back and forth and would feel like we are contributing to a mutually beneficial relationship (instead of a parasitical one?).

Another option of course is to cave in and join the ranks of car ownership. And there are endless details involved in that decision. Do we buy a really flash new eco car or go down the used-car route? Would we buy a small fuel efficient model or a bigger car that we could use to haul loads? We would we really have the self-discipline to limit ourselves to mandatory trips only or would our lifestyle significantly change?

What do you think? What would you do? What do you do? How do we contribute to the creation of a sustainable transportation culture without sacrificing our individual needs? Or is that even possible?

-June Cleverer

Nature as the Model

We’ve thought long and hard about what makes an eco-thrifty renovation. I say it is mindfulness. Specifically, we are trying to be mindful of energy, materials and toxics. To help guide us, we have adopted 7 guiding principles that we have drawn from nature. We’ll be providing plenty of examples in blogs, videos and podcasts to come, but for now, here they are:

  • Solar Gain
  • Thermal Mass
  • Insulation
  • Reduce Waste
  • Reuse Materials
  • Recycle Materials Not Reusable on Site
  • Minimize Toxic Materials

We hope that you’ll visit us regularly to learn and laugh.

Peace, M.C. Estwing