Auckland Council is on an ambitious journey to reduce its waste to landfill through a programme of community-based engagement and delivery initiatives.
Deep in the heart of any zero waste initiative lies an understanding that waste is everyone’s issue. Everybody contributes to its generation and everyone has the opportunity to make reductions. By employing waste champions, creating a network of community recycling centres and working with community-based organisations, Auckland Council is ensuring the greatest advocates for change are the people themselves.
Auckland’s waste plan aims to empower people to rethink waste as a resource and to take responsibility for an issue previously managed by councils out-of-sight and out-of-mind.
Since the adoption of its first Waste Management and Minimisation Plan (WMMP) in 2012 Auckland Council has been on a far-reaching programme to transform how the city manages its waste. Its aim is to deliver zero waste to landfill by 2040. This ambitious goal spans both household and commercial waste. For Auckland, getting its waste sorted will be essential if it is to achieve its aspiration of being the world’s most liveable city.
The initial focus is on household waste. The introduction of consistent reuse and recycling collections, together with a number of community-based initiatives, have already seen household waste tonnages fall by around 10 percent since 2012.
With food waste collections and user-pays refuse bins to be introduced across the region over the next few years it is anticipated that a further 20 percent reduction will be achieved by 2020.
Ian Stupple, council’s general manager of waste solutions, is leading the Auckland waste transformation programme. This includes devolving services from seven former councils to the current ‘super city’ and its 1.5 million residents.
Ian’s previous experience is in the public, private and community sectors in the UK including a role as director for street services at Croydon, London’s largest council. Ian has also owned an environmental consultancy which included the operation of a community enterprise.
He says the Auckland project is a “comprehensive programme of change” aiming to divert materials from the waste stream, and encourage reuse and recycling to become a regular part of Aucklanders’ lives.
He believes this must be the biggest change to waste services in the Southern Hemisphere since the Auckland amalgamation in 2010.
He adds that new services are being progressively rolled-out. These include a network of community-led community recycling centres, a third bin for food waste and a new inorganic service that diverts useful material to community organisations.
A key factor to date in reducing household waste has been the council’s community-based approach to engaging and developing communities around the message of zero waste. This has seen the introduction of some practical, on-the-ground measures while encouraging creativity to drive locally-inspired and -owned solutions.
Over 35 community-based waste champions have been recruited to partner with local community organisations, businesses and schools. Via this partnership model, diverse Auckland communities tailor their own engagement from within their networks.
This has enabled the community waste champions to develop programmes with reach and capacity far beyond that of council working alone. Ian says this is resulting in communities becoming more passionate about what happens with their waste. They are also becoming more connected and resilient.
A small team of council staff support the community by providing resources and ‘Waste 101’ sessions. Delivery is done locally by waste champions in one-on-one or group engagement sessions at churches, community events or schools. In-depth community engagement trials have demonstrated high rates of uptake and long-term retention of new practices by up to 80 percent.
Waste champions and communities are also widening their environmental focus as waste is seen as a gateway to wider environmental awareness and action. The Puhinui stream clean-up organised by waste champions in 2016, for example, set a record for the biggest clean-up yet. Some 1900 local people worked to remove over nine tonnes of rubbish from a 10 kilometre stretch of stream. Since then communities and businesses have adopted sections of the stream and continue to maintain them.
The waste champions and education programmes are also building social capital in diverse ethnic and low socio-economic communities. Self-reporting from communities has identified improved social outcomes such as increased interpersonal connection and neighbourhood pride.
There are individual benefits too. One participant who adopted a waste minimisation approach to saving money achieved her financial goal of saving a deposit for a house.
Auckland Council is also a key supporter of the national zero waste programme to support waste minimisation on marae. Para Kore Ki Tamaki Makaurau has a particular focus on reuse, recycling and food waste reduction. And waste champions are reporting improved personal health and wellbeing amongst those involved in the programme including reduced weight, smoking and depression.
Community Recycling Centres
The council is also developing an Auckland-wide Resource Recovery Network based around the provision of 12 Community Recycling Centres over the next eight years. This initiative aims to maximise economic development opportunities including job creation by diverting waste from landfill, and supporting local enterprise and innovation.
To date, four community recycling sites have been established. Each is managed by local community enterprises on a minimum five-year contract. A further four trials are underway focusing on building community capacity. The centres provide the capacity for residents and businesses to separate, sort and recover resources. Each site also has a shop where it on-sells reusable or upcycled material.
Ian says the council has taken a strong leadership role to ensure the network achieves its full potential and seeks to establish self-sustainable businesses over the life of the contracts. As a result, a social procurement approach was taken when contracting with the current community enterprises. This not only maximises the diversion of reusable and recyclable materials from landfill, but also generates multiple environmental, social, cultural and economic benefits.
The contracts are set up as social enterprise partnership models, with open book accounting, profit sharing and robust monthly reporting. Council retains ownership of the sites and infrastructure, and ongoing technical support is provided to the community operators through the Community Recycling Network and council staff.
Council will continue to support community operators to develop training, succession planning, governance and mentoring. Council is also able to provide operators with access to preferential purchasing and service rates that council has access to, giving the operators the benefits of economies of scale.
Currently the recycling sites are exceeding the job creation estimates in the original strategy. The four relatively-undeveloped recycling centres in Waiuku, Helensville, Devonport and Waitakere are employing 48 staff in 26 full-time-equivalent roles.
The centres also create opportunities for volunteering with 27 regular volunteers currently working at the four sites. There are also a larger number of casual volunteers and Correction Department referrals. In total, 840 hours per month of volunteer time is being donated at the four sites – mostly by local people taking up the opportunity to connect and be part of their communities.
The recycling centres are also offering a pathway into productive employment, with a quarter of the jobs filled by long-term unemployed.
The aim is that the recycling sites become zero waste hubs promoting waste minimisation and resource efficiency. Community Recycling Centres also provide the ideal collection infrastructure for product stewardship schemes, which is an initiative the council supports through advocacy.
Product stewardship schemes and associated revenue would help support operational expenses with sites being used as collection depots for tyres, batteries, electronic waste and other items when schemes are introduced.
The sites will also stimulate economic growth in the recycling sector in Auckland by providing additional materials for recyclers, as well as collecting materials that are not currently recycled but around which new businesses can be formed.
Each site is currently diverting around 70 percent of its material: most of which would have previously gone to landfill. It is estimated that over the next 10 years over 100,000 tonnes of reusable and recyclable material will be diverted from these community-based sites. This significant waste diversion will reduce carbon emissions from transport and methane emissions from landfills. It will also decrease leachate production in landfills.
Community Recycling Centres run by local enterprises also provide natural hubs for developing local resilience. Kaikoura’s Recycling Centre showed this, playing a key role in developing the connections that helped the community cope immediately after the earthquake, and later during the clean-up and recovery phase.
On a smaller scale, but closer to home, Auckland Council was able to help families displaced by flooding in west Auckland in March this year by working with the Waitakere Community Recycling Centre to provide access to second-hand goods. In the event of large-scale disaster Auckland may also need the capacity to handle large volumes of material from damaged buildings and debris.
On top of this, back in September 2015 the council introduced a new region-wide inorganic (bulky / hard waste) collection service. This is offered annually across the region to all eligible households. Although many of the former councils in the Auckland area had previously provided a kerbside service there had been a number of concerns about illegal dumping, health and safety, and poor resource recovery as all material collected went to landfill.
The new service is booked online or by phone with collections taking place on property. To date, over 100,000 collections have been made with over 3000 tonnes of the material being reused or recycled.
Over 90 community groups and charities have access to the recovered material which is taken back to a central warehouse where it is distributed by the Community Recycling Network.
In addition over 20,000 items of electronic waste have been collected. With the previous collection method this hazardous waste would have all been sent to landfill. Instead these items are now dismantled by the Abilities Group, a local non-profit, incorporated society dedicated to enriching the lives of people with disabilities through meaningful work.
As Ian summarises, the council has taken a different approach to social procurement, engagement and communications. “And we’ve seen positive improvements in customer satisfaction, waste diversion and resource recovery, while creating a valuable resource to support community organisations, charities and a new wave of social enterprises.”
Recycling in Waiuku
The Waiuku Community Recycling Centre was the first site to be established as part of Auckland’s Resource Recovery Network. In November 2014 a local enterprise, Waiuku Zero Waste, opened its doors to the public after winning a five-year contract to operate the site which was previously underutilised as a waste transfer station.
The contract was let using a social procurement approach developed by the council’s waste team. The site has become a community destination and provides residents with a place to drop off a wide range of reusable and recyclable materials, as well as waste. It also has a shop, the Waiuku Junktion, where second-hand goods are sold, and a workshop where furniture is restored.
The centre is diverting over 70 percent of materials coming onto the site, a significant step towards achieving Auckland’s aspirational goal of zero waste to landfill by 2040.
Ten people have been employed – equivalent to 4.6 full-time-equivalent (FTE) positions – and all staff have received some form of training ranging from gaining a forklift licence to electrical testing certification.
Waiuku Zero Waste has returned a profit each year and is on track towards achieving financial sustainability over its five-year contract. Additional grants and funding sources have been accessed as a result of the enterprise’s contract with the council.
Not to be sniffed at
Auckland Council’s work was recognised with a top Award for Excellence at last year’s Waste Management Institute New Zealand (WasteMINZ) conference. It won the best communication, engagement or education initiative category for its inorganic collection service.
The award-winning project was led by Auckland Council, with collections by Waste Management NZ, and materials sorted and distributed to community groups by the Community Recycling Network.
This article was first published in the June 2017 issue of NZ Local Government Magazine.