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Three things to watch in New Zealand’s Zero Waste efforts

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Auckland wants nothing short of being a world leader in Zero Waste. Here are three things we need to watch and learn from in the U.S. 

I, Eric Lombardi, meeting with Zero Waste New Zealand founder, Warren Snow, and several Maori leaders at the New Zealand Community Recycling Network Conference.

I, Eric Lombardi, meeting with Zero Waste New Zealand founder, Warren Snow, and several Maori leaders at the New Zealand Community Recycling Network Conference.

Auckland and Zero Waste

Auckland wants nothing short of being a world leader in Zero Waste. Its ultimate goal is to be “the most livable eco city in the world.” Zero Waste is an integral part of this goal and the city’s committed to Zero Waste by 2040. I had the pleasure of working with both government and community leaders to help steer their new Zero Waste initiatives. Here’s what we need to watch:

  • Community groups and government see the need to partner together
  • Community recycling centers will be a model of jobs creation and hard-to-recycle materials
  • Strong national investment in green jobs is driving reuse and repair industries

HOW to Implement Zero Waste

Auckland is by far the largest city in New Zealand with over 1.5 million people. Federal leadership is lacking in New Zealand (sound familiar?) so action is happening at the local level. The city has an aggressive plan and the challenge now, like here in the U.S., is how you implement these ZW solutions.

As the keynote speaker for the New Zealand Community Recycling Network Conference, both citizens and government staff were relieved to hear me say, “Zero Waste is not built by government alone.” For city staff there was an audible sigh of relief, an acknowledgement that they can’t do this alone and they need community support. For the community recyclers it was reenergizing to hear that they are a critical part of the solution and won’t be left out.

It’s this partnership between community groups and local government, what we call the “inside-outside partnership,” that will create and sustain change in Auckland. We’ve learned firsthand in Boulder County how that works, and now we’re sharing our model with others here and abroad.

Programs to watch: Community Recycling Centres

Upon the advice of the local community recyclers, Auckland is planning to build 12 Community Recycling Centers (CRCs) scattered around the sprawling city that will be a model for the rest of the world in jobs creation, reuse and recycling. The centers will be a drop-off point for furniture, used building materials, recycling and potentially organics.

These centers are more than just about infrastructure or diversion. Furniture repair will create green jobs, a federal funding priority. They are also part of the cultural change for community building: Auckland has a large and active indigenous Maori community, and an ever-increasing Asian and Pacific Island population, so the CRCs are also being viewed as an opportunity for neighborhood integration.

More than 30 city staff attended my presentation about Eco-Cycle’s Center for Hard-to-Recycle Materials (CHaRM) as model to collect more recyclables and engage the community. The CHaRM in Boulder offers an outlet for hard-to-recycle materials including books, clothing, electronics, yoga mats, foam packaging, porcelain, appliances and more. After my presentation, the city is thinking of expanding their vision of what the recycling program at the CRCs will collect.

Jobs creation through reuse

While I was there Auckland was in the process of launching a new citywide bulky item pickup (they call it “Inorganic Collections”) with a great new twist. Usable household goods like appliances, furniture and clothing are picked up at the curb and consolidated in warehouses around the city. The materials are then redistributed to thrift stores and nonprofits with a big focus on jobs creation. The amount of stuff collected in just a few short days was amazing—definitely a project to watch!

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