Waste not, want not
Waste not, want not

Raglan’s Xtreme Zero Waste is a great example of the environmental outcomes that can be achieved when a whole community rallies behind a recycling initiative and sticks at it.
By Glenn Baker

The genesis for Xtreme Zero Waste happened in 1998 when, after numerous meetings, the Raglan community formed a ‘more than profit’ organisation to deal with its closing local landfill, and crippling transport costs to send solid waste to the Horotiu landfill, north of Hamilton. 

The ultimate goal was ‘zero waste to landfill’.

“Waikato District Council supported the venture from the start with a contract to manage the transfer station and begin the journey of waste diversion,” recalls Xtreme Zero Waste relationship manager Rick Thorpe. The company has now managed Raglan’s solid waste for 16 years.  

The doubters were quickly silenced when, within the first year. more than half of Raglan’s waste was diverted. This proved waste diversion was possible, says Thorpe.

“Since then we’ve achieved more than 75 percent diversion annually.” 

Employment has been a positive spin-off, with the contracts for service and sale of recycled product enabling the employment of 28 locals.

“Waste has been a stepping stone for people new to employment to learn skills and ethics,” explains Thorpe. “We’ve had more than 180 people through our books which is a huge success. At a minimum we provide staff a reference and work experience. If they stay we can provide drivers licence, HT, forklift, digger, unit standards in resource recovery, retail training, fire suppression and first aid. 

“We view all staff as an asset to our community. The skills they obtain benefit our community.”

The impact on the local economy has been positive from day one. Over winter when local businesses close, Xtreme Zero Waste is a stabilising financial factor as it contributes a significant amount in weekly wages.  

“We also add value to the funds we receive from outside Raglan by purchasing in local shops and hiring local contractors,” says Thorpe.  

Two socio-economic studies confirmed that the wages go around Raglan, as cash, twice before entering the banking system.  

“So every $1 we get from our ratepayers is turned into $4 of local economic activity within the same financial year. Not a bad investment from what we used to bury in the ground!”

Since its formation Xtreme Zero Waste has chalked up many milestones – such as the Whaingaroa Harbour Care wetland filtration system to handle the leachate from the old landfill. 

“A stream that suffered from domestic, agricultural and light industrial toxic waste lost all of its vertebrate life,” says Thorpe. “There were no fish from harbour edge up the stream to the landfill. But over five years the system enabled the stream to regenerate to a point now where there’re complex food chains, including a fair whitebait run of native fish species.”

Another environmental benefit is the circular economy based around the recovery of materials that Xtreme Zero Waste supplies to New Zealand markets – such as glass to OI, cardboard to Kinleith, paper to Penrose, some plastics for insulation and farm products, and wood to McAllister’s. 

“We believe there’s huge potential to further develop New Zealand’s recycling/reuse industries and extract even more economic growth and employment if we keep it local,” says Thorpe.   

“Over the past 16 years we’ve presented more than 200,000 square metres of materials back to market – the equivalent to 80 Olympic swimming pools.”


Innovation and achievements

Looking back, Thorpe says the first ten years was a struggle as New Zealand had very little recycling infrastructure – it was largely uncharted territory.

However, issues such as distance to and from markets, have produced some truly creative waste solutions. Thorpe acknowledges visionaries such as Warren Snow and Gerry Gillespie, who created the ‘zero waste’ concept, now embodied in national legislation, where waste is designed out of our systems. Innovative infrastructure such as waste balers and horizontal compost units have also made a difference.

Today Xtreme Zero Waste and the 4,000-strong Raglan community still divert approximately 75 percent of total solid waste. In July, a collaborative project between Waikato District Council and XZW will see a new kerbside food waste collection service begin, which will reduce waste by another eight to 14 percent, remove a waste-stream producing dangerous climate change gas (methane), and deliver material for products such as compost, worm food and soil conditioners.

To knock off the final 15 to 20 percent of waste they’ll focus on mixed recyclables and mixed construction and demolition waste.

Thorpe’s encouraged by Auckland Council’s new programme to create a network of community managed resource recovery centres. Xtreme Zero Waste assisted Waiuku Zero Waste to become Auckland’s first community resource recovery centre, and has signed an MoU with two Taranaki community organisations and New Plymouth District Council to help build a centre near Waitara.

The Raglan example is now evident in many resource recovery centres around
the country. 

It has taken 19 years, but finally the hard work of that one tiny, remote community on the North Island’s West Coast is having a nationwide impact.     

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