Wanaka Wastebusters is one of the oldest enterprises in the New Zealand Zero Waste Network and seen as “the big sister” to newer community resource recovery centres.
The organisation was set up in 2000 to divert waste from the landfill. To help get it launched the Queenstown Lakes District Council supplied space at an old landfill site and the community banded together to build a recycling centre and thrift shop.
“People from all walks of life helped build it and that’s why it’s so connected to the community,” says communications adviser, Gina Dempster. “We’ve now got a site in Alexandra, having taken on the running of Central Otago Wastebusters in 2015, and we employ around 40 staff at the two sites.”
“We’re on a big mission to lead the way to zero waste. There’s a need for change on every level – individual, governmental and in businesses and we aim to achieve this though community-led initiatives.”
The over-riding goals are to reclaim resources and minimise waste, make communities resourceful, affordable and fun and above all to be an alternative to a disposable society.
Wastebusters turns over around $2 million a year despite the average sale being just $10 and recycling charges kept as low as possible. Revenue from the social enterprise is directed into reducing waste and raising public awareness through programmes such as zero waste education for both children and adults.
Gina says around 700 businesses recycle with Wastebusters and more than 2,000 tonnes of waste is recycled annually.
Wanaka Wastebusters also works with community groups like Plastic Bag Free Wanaka, home-growing and compost expert Dr Compost, and Sustainable Queenstown to help educate and motivate people about reducing waste.
“Plastic Bag Free Wanaka’s goal is to make Wanaka plastic bag free by 2019 – it sounded ambitious when they started three years ago, but we’re nearly there. Wastebusters collaborates with Plastic Bag Free Wanaka on events like the waste-free fair which is amazingly popular,” says Gina. “The waste-free fair inspires people to avoid single use plastics and waste, by demonstrating how to upcycle old jumpers into pet beds, turn old t-shirts into reusable bags, make your own nut milks to avoid using tetra packs, make beeswax wraps to avoid gladwrap and make your own homemade cleaning products. There’s also a range of reusable products like beeswax wraps and produce bags made from net curtains for sale if people want to get started right away.”
The next fair is scheduled for Sunday July 14 at the Lake Wanaka Centre to coincide with Plastic Free July, a global movement which encourages people to give up the four most common single-use items – single-use coffee cups, plastic drinks bottles, plastic bags and plastic straws.
While the Wastebusters’ work can be challenging, such as collecting recycling material from events and sorting it, the big picture makes it worthwhile.
“Some day there will be life without waste,” says Gina “and everyone who has been part of Wastebusters will be able to say, “we helped make that happen.”