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Great Barrier Island locals get innovative with waste, connecting with each other and creating new resources

Submitted by on September 11, 2015 – 9:44 am 2 Comments

By Joanna Piekarski

Rainbow at Oruawharo Creek, Great Barrier Island, by Joanna Piekarski

Residents of Great Barrier island, a small 150 sq km island of 800 residents about 90 km across the Hauraki Gulf from Auckland, have taken the challenge of waste into their own hands, with positive results.

Resident Joanna Piekarski said   individuals and groups from all sectors of the community are working together to reuse or recycle resources.

She said whatever isn’t reused on the island is landfilled or barged out, though neither is a viable long-term prospect.

“Recycling stations are in place throughout the island, but no matter how carefully residents sort out their discards, everything they place in the bins still has to be dealt with,” she said.

Enter individual and group effort!

“Some local waste-away schemes are ongoing. Everyone’s encouraged to keep their throwaways to a minimum and compost or worm-farm their food and garden waste. Small household items and books ready for new homes are collected and sold at markets by the Rural Women.”

She said secondhand clothes find new wearers in an informal exchange behind the Health Centre. Members of a coop buy organic food in bulk and divide items into BYO containers, keeping packaging waste off the island and saving themselves as much as half the price of the same food in small containers in shops.

“People leave banana boxes and other large boxes at school bus shelters around the island for the large market gardeners of Okiwi Passion to collect and use for produce boxes and seedling trays for sale at markets.

“The biweekly island newspaper has a regular spot for tips on shrinking your waste footprint and notices of reusable items to giveaway or wanted.”

Joanna said one “keen woman” took onto her land an entire year’s worth of the island’s discarded cardboard, 40 dumpster-size cages of it. Composting worms have already reduced the mega-heap down to the size of one cage and rewarded her with good soil for her small market garden. She is supported by the island landfill manager, who is happy to continue delivering cardboard.

“Someone else is throwing her energy into opening a “repurposing hub” in a large shed at her place, for used items not already being recirculated: furniture, other large household items such as cabinets, and building materials, all for koha.”

“An art therapist is applying for a waste minimisation grant for a wholistic project whose beauty and value brought tears to my eyes as she explained it: a large golden-ratio spiral made of tyres that will be stepped and filled with papercrete to form seats, with a stage at the centre. Artwork will feature throughout. While utilising large quantities of discarded tyres and paper, the amphitheater will involve island youth in creating their own centrally located performance space adjacent to the community gardens, while they learn about resource reuse, art, building, cooperation and sacred geometry. The unique venue will be used the entire community. Again, the landfill manager is more than happy to deliver to the site all the tyres and paper needed.”

However the project involving the most people, with potential to put to good use the most used paper as well as generate income, is papercrete. The group built their own mixer and finished their first small building, a generator shed. Next is a shed at the community gardens, intended also as a hands-on community project and a model of building with papercrete. Once they’re ready to go “commercial” they can earn money constructing papercrete outbuildings for islanders, said Joanna.

“The GBI Community Board is actively behind all of these inspiring ideas. The board is nothing short of amazing. Auckland Council gives them significant delegations and they’re clued-up, serious and effective in initiating and manifesting everything that’s beneficial for this island, beautifully managing the often difficult balance among social, economic and environmental goods and goals.”

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