It’s not my rubbish but it’s my community!

“We are the protectors,” Max reminds others as he sets off up the wharf with bucket in hand.   Once a month a ‘flashmob’ of locals, liveaboard boaties, and visitors find the 90 minutes ‘Earthcare Opua’ gathering is not only rewarding but surprisingly enjoyable!   

Earthcare Opua remains deliberately unstructured. With no-one in charge, newcomers and regulars alike simply assemble in assorted hi-vis with bucket or bag and a protective glove.  The group searches for litter across Opua, ‘harvesting’ debris from roadsides, tracks and the wharf.  “Knowing what I have picked up may keep a seabird or fish safe, means a lot,” explains Janie, “It’s something practical I do once a month that really makes a difference!”

“I can’t believe all the cigarette butts,” a local says. “I must have picked up 100 or more, including a pile outside my mate’s business! Today I’ve found out butts contain plastic and when seagulls feed them to their chicks, it kills them. That’s so crazy!  Tomorrow, I’ll be down to chat with my mate!  I bet he doesn’t even realise! Maybe it’s his workers, maybe customers, but a sand can for stubs wouldn’t be hard eh?”

Amongst the liveaboards from the marina, a competitive element develops.  “Anyone else find more than a dozen cable ties, ‘cut and dropped’? “  A discussion begins around small bits of rubbish washed by yesterday’s under the hard stand fence.  “Another rain and they’d have been floating in the ocean!” says one overseas yachtie who sees the practical impact her work has had. ‘it’s good to help out, and, I’ll be more sparing with cable ties from now on!”

An Aucklander has come with his Opua friends.  He’s shocked by the number of pie wrappers he’s picked out of marina gardens!  Mainly though, he’s pleased his friends persuaded him to come along.  “It’s been great to meet all you guys.  I love coming up here and now I’ve done my bit to care for the Bay!”

Earthcare Opua meets outside The Opua Store the first Sunday of each month at 9am.  All welcome. *Opua Store and the Marina Café kindly support volunteers bringing a reusable cup with a complementary tea or coffee after the pick-up.

Are you unable to make Earthcare Opua next month but want to do your part to protect the Bay?

Opua Business owners – your business no doubt depends on the health of the sea. Is there something more you can do to support your customers and workers to care for our Bay?     

Seafarers – how many cable ties do you really need?

Smokers – could an empty Eclipse Mints tin in your pocket/bag/car be your new ‘butt holder’?

Pie lovers –Would you be willing to consider being a role model for protecting the bay? 

Householders – Still taking packaging you dislike home with your purchase? Help businesses step up to their responsibility to talk with their suppliers about earth-friendly alternatives by handing packaging back in at the store. #timetoasksupplierstochange 

Jane Banfield is a Paihia grandmother with a passion for the ocean.  Her first introduction to yachting was to marry the Kiwi yachtsman who 35 years ago happened upon the remote island school in Vanuatu where she was a volunteer teacher.  A keen kayaker, sailor and almost-daily swimmer, Jane is a self-styled ‘zero waste granny’ who has chosen a low impact packaging-free lifestyle and supports others in the Bay of Islands to do the same.

Resource Recovery : A Far North Vision

What follows is the vision of our ‘Far North Citizens Waste Minimisation Group’  and our request for support –  that I gave via FNDC Annual Plan hearing video link on 6 May 2020 – to our Far North District Mayor and Councillors.

Objectives FNCWMG May 2020I know that 4 pilot resource recovery projects will add hugely to this year’s Annual Plan. I’m going to explain why. But first, a story from the Solomon Islands:
 It is 2015 and I’m a volunteer management and accounting trainer who knows nothing more about rubbish than what I too can clearly see is gross – plastic floating out to sea.

“Jane, would you talk to our school about rubbish littering our coast?” Researching the topic before my first talk, I discover the enormity of the global waste crisis.  Here I am, being looked up to as an ‘expert’ asked for advice, the assumption being that back home where I live in ‘developed’ New Zealand, we have wastefulness sorted!

 It soon dawns on me that I’m preaching: I’m a case of, ‘Do as I say, not as I do!’
I return here to the Bay of Islands. I choose to complete a Masters researching Māori approaches to wastefulness and find ways to ‘walk the talk’ myself as a self-styled ‘Zero Waste Granny’.

Perhaps that longing to ‘walk the talk’ and reduce rubbish touches a chord in you too?  It’s certainly brought a group of us here in the Far North together over lockdown to give practical voice to our common deepfelt feeling that wastefulness isnt ok.  We aren’t looking for perfection, but seek that  :

90% of what can be composted in the Far North will be composted
 90% of what can be recycled will be recycled

FNDC’s current Waste Management and Minimisation Plan 2017 – 2023 calls all of us to Waste nothing of value or use while working towards zero waste”   and
“Reduce the harmful effects of waste and improve the efficiency of resource use”

 The strategic business plan our Far North Waste Minimisation Group has drafted –  finding favour with local hapū and Pakeha alike –  honours these council goals by increasing resource recovery capacity 3 ways :

  • 15 Organic Farmlet enterprises collecting kitchen waste – small market gardening businesses solving a social issue
  • 10 more Community Recycling drop-off stations – access for everyone as easy as to supermarkets
  • 2 more full size Resource Recovery Centres – engaging in reuse, repair and repurposing


But why insert pilot resource recovery projects into this year’s annual plan?
3 reasons:
1. Employment (1 tonne waste kept out of landfill is evidenced to create up to 10 jobs)
Community resilienceAround NZ more than 30% of kitchen waste goes to landfill. Its madness to be wasting this!   5+ A Day means 5 lots of 80g that’s 400g of fresh produce. We can do this easily in our district. And urban farms build local food security, create hubs for social cohesion and add wellbeing into neighbourhoods. Moreover as my own recent Masters research evidenced, people feel better when they recycle, compost and stop being so wasteful. 
3.Climate change mitigation  – recycling food waste reduces carbon emissions, so does less trucking waste out of the district while improving the quality of soil enhances biodiversity which in turn removes carbon from air .

Things have changed with Covid19.   All  5 sectors of our Far North Economy …
i. Hapū
ii. Householders
iii. Those protecting and regenerating our common natural spaces and ecosystems on behalf of us all
iv. Businesses
v. Local & national government

…. are calling for regenerative recovery solutions.

This plan is excitingly simple, low cost, builds on tried and tested concepts and builds into the circular economy.

 Our growing network of practitioners around the Far North wants to see the district not only achieve the goals of the waste minimisation plan but for our district to be demonstrating leadership to other districts by dealing with food waste at a community level.

2 pilot farmlets* and 2 pilot community recycling stations can be operational by the end of this year.  A strategic business plan with costings is already drafted and 10 of us will meet again tomorrow night.  We want to open discussions with council urgently.

Not only will these resource recovery pilots provide jobs, Community-led resilience and mitigate climate change mitigation , our network’s vision IS Council’s vision!

As the Mayor himself stated in 2017, regarding Council’s target of reducing landfill waste from 320kg in 2016 to 200kg by 2023 :
“This is an ambitious goal, but a necessary one, if we are to become a more sustainable District.  We cannot keep building new landfills; they are expensive to operate, and harmful to the environment as there is potential ground water contamination and methane release to the atmosphere.  They are also a legacy our children and their children won’t thank us for leaving them.  We need to do better, and we can do better. 

Far North Flourishing kds

Ocean Plastic: Choices for Cruising Yachties

(Pre-Covid19, this article was scheduled for publication in
Opua Yacht Club’s ‘Tell Tales’ : April 2020 issue.) 

The challenge of plastic in our oceans is confronting.  It’d be hard to find a beach anywhere in the world these days free of plastic flotsam so perhaps we as yachties can be part of the solution?  What if we set an example wherever we travel through a low-packaging lifestyle to lower our own impact?

in 2019 I joined my brother to cruise around northern Fiji and share the passage to New Zealand.  As a one-time yacht owner and offshore passage-maker I chose to chat with fellow cruisers about how they view their own ‘waste footprint’.  People expressed concern about the quantity of plastic waste they took ashore for disposal, yet seemed doubtful they could do things differently:

“There’s no choice when you are cruising, things need to be wrapped in plastic to make them last,” one explains.  Another well-travelled individual is certain that, “You can’t avoid buying bottled water, local water is not safe to drink,” while others seem certain, “We are not the problem, you should see what others do!”  

By 2030, it is predicted there will be more plastic in the sea than fish. Globally, only 9% of plastic is recycled the rest is buried in the earth, burnt or blows, falls or is tipped into the sea. For small island Pacific states and nations favoured by cruisers, chances for effective recycling are even less than they are here in NZ. Dispersed populations, vast distances to recycling plants and lack of waste collection infrastructure exacerbate issues.   I see the choice as simple, ‘Do we yachtspeople continue to ignore and add to the problem or will we role model new behaviours for others to follow?’   But first, a story from my time in Fiji to remind us that the effect of our choices may be less clear than we think.

I’m standing in the shade at the start of a coastal walk through the Bouma National Park in Taveuni Island, western Fiji.  Two women from neighbouring yachts have joined us and are handing out plastic-packaged, plastic-sticked lollipops to small children from the village. The yachtswomen beam at each other delighted at the reception of their gifts. The little girls seem happy too, smiling shyly as they unwrap this unexpected treasure and drop the plastic wrappings to float away in the offshore breeze. 

Whose responsibility is that plastic packaging now in the ocean?

Refuse Reduce Reuse Rot Recycle Landfill


I am certain most cruising yachtpeople desire to be known as trustworthy voyagers who respect and care for ocean ecosystems in which so many others also live and play.  An easy first step is to reduce the waste created from an onboard lifestyle. The ‘Waste Hierarchy’ triangle’ (illustrated) provides a simple guide for yacht owners and crew looking for solutions to minimise waste.   The most preferable action is at the top of the inverted hierarchy triangle, ‘Refuse’, so that’s a good place to start…


10 items you may ‘choose to refuse’ on board

REFUSE Replace with Comments
Storekeeper’s offer of a plastic bag Your own fold-up bag Keep a fold-up shopping bag in your pocket/handbag for unexpected purchases
Fruit and vegetables in plastic bags Your own drawstring net bags Make your own out of recycled net curtains or buy a pack.

Using your own reusable bags role models making plastic bags obsolete.

Wrapped meat on plastic trays Ask where the local butcher is. Take your own reusable plastic bags/containers or ask for it to be wrapped in paper.
Tea bags Loose tea in a pot or individual tea infuser Most tea bags are glued together with plastic adhesive.


my teapot
Cleaning products in plastic spray bottles Bicarbonate of soda Sodium bicarbonate is a natural deodoriser and degreaser
Plastic clothes pegs Wooden clothes pegs If they do get blown overboard, they will biodegrade.
Plastic or paper straws Carry your own reusable one or just use your mouth!
To drop cigarette butts on the ground/ in the ocean Carry a portable ashtray, a small screw-top tin or jar. 95% of cigarette butts are a form of plastic. Commonly found in stomachs of seabirds, marine mammals & fish.
cigarette butts 2
To buy plastic-wrapped sweets, plastic pens, instant noodles as gifts Pencils, metal pencil sharpeners, metal water bottles, local foods in re-usable bags. Consider whether your gift is sustainable and what message it role models.
Plastic wrapping around store-bought purchases Leave the packaging at the store when buying new equipment or electronics Take the opportunity to ask the store to request their suppliers switch to packaging-free or eco-friendly packaging


In this global world, what we do today on our own boat impacts fellow humans (including those yet unborn) and other species.  Years back a wise elder explained to me how, “we have 4 needs: ‘to Live, to Learn, to Love and to leave a Legacy. ‘”  If you die in a year’s time, how do you want to be remembered by others? As an indifferent abuser of  ocean ecosystems, who met your own needs at the expense of your peers? Or as someone who role modelled a low-impact low-waste lifestyle that many others saw and copied ?

Jane Banfield is a Paihia grandmother with a passion for the ocean.  Her first introduction to yachting was to marry the Kiwi yachtsman who 35 years ago happened upon the remote island school in Vanuatu where she was a volunteer teacher.  A keen kayaker, sailor and almost-daily swimmer, Jane is a self-styled ‘zero waste granny’ who has chosen a low impact packaging-free lifestyle and supports others in the Bay of Islands to do the same.              zerowastegranny@gmail.com

Single-use Packaging : An email story.

Packaging Peters of Kensington Jan 2020

From: Peter’s of Kensington 
Sent: Tuesday, 21 January 2020 5:41 pm
To: me
Subject: A reminder to review your products from www.petersofkensington.com.au 

A quick reminder for you, Jane Banfield. Thanks again for buying these products from www.petersofkensington.com.au. We would like to remind you that writing a review of these products will help us improve our customer satisfaction.  Cristel – Mutine Removable Saucepan w/Glass Lid 18cm/2.1L

23 January 2020
Dear Peters team
I feel very angry.  You have sent the 2 saucepans I ordered with such a quantity of plastic packaging that it insults and dishonours the needs of our family, future generations of New Zealanders and our dearly-loved natural world.   I have advised others not to buy from you again until you change your processes.
This packaging is totally unnecessary. The saucepans come from France in cardboard cartons and in an individual plastic bag (which you should ask your suppliers to leave out).  You could have put a bit of string around the two cartons and sent them like that. But no, each went into a separate oversized carton, which you then filled with quantities of plastic bubble wrap, sealed with plastic tape and then wrapped with plastic parcel strapping.  You then sent each giant carton separately so they arrived with different couriers on different days.
I don’t know whether this is the way you want to treat our NZ environment? If not, would you be willing to confirm that you are changing to eco-friendly ways of distributing your goods.  I am sure you agree we all need to work together as good stewards to regenerate our environment, not create unnecessary amounts of plastic packaging that cannot be recycled here in NZ,  wasteful quantities of cardboard, recycled or not, and excessive carbon miles? Or does your company believe they are exempt from a responsibility to care for those who come after us?
I await your response.  Sincerely ….

From: Enquiries – Peter’s of Kensington 
Sent: Friday, 24 January 2020
Hi Jane, Thank you for your email.    At Peter’s of Kensington, we are fully committed to reducing our environmental impact. As such, we utilise a mixture of biodegradable and recyclable air pillows, and all of our cardboard boxes are made from recycled material. We also try and make sure that the item you have purchased has a safe delivery to your location – however we understand you disappointment in regards to this and have forwarded your feedback to our manager.
Should you have any questions please do not hesitate to contact us.  
Regards,  Jacqueline  

Friday 24 January 2020
Dear Jacqueline
I value the rapidity of your reply.  I know you will be following systems, and respect it is not your personal voice, but such a response comes across as patronising, fatuous and completely unacceptable from a company such as yours.

Are you saying you have no plans to change from ridiculous amounts of plastic packaging/ use of cartons that are far too big?   To state that your company is ‘committed to reducing your environmental impact’ is extroadinary!  I view this packaging behaviour as unreasonable, uncaring and showing a total lack of commitment to any such thing.  At this stage of the earth’s history, our natural world here in NZ , not to mention your own in Australia, is too precious to have companies such as yours decimate it by not taking care.

Yes, your state your cartons are made from ‘recycled material’ but they are still oversize,  still not only a huge waste of tree resources but also engendering unnecessary carbon miles from taking up so much space on trucks/ and air or sea freight and couriers to my home.  Your plastic air pillows are neither recyclable where I live, nor biodegradable.   They are made from non-renewable resources of oil.  Soft plastic exported by you to our part of the world, simply ends up in a hole in the ground polluting our land, if it doesn’t blow out from the rubbish truck or landfill and end up in the environment.

There are many alternatives to plastic bubble wrap, just check with local suppliers in Australia for such things as  https://sustainability.energy/eco-friendly-alternatives-bubble-wrap/  or just use your office shredded paper.
I would value talking with whoever manages your shipping department. Would you be willing to ask them to call me?

(A call was a lot to hope for. They didn’t).

“Now what?” I ask myself.  After filling out the Trade Me feedback box in a similar vein, I choose  to refocus my energy elsewhere.  I will trust that other people will see my feedback and feel moved to point out their own anger or sadness about destructive and excessive packaging they receive.  I’m the ‘100th monkey’ who knows that it is the solidarity of others doing the same that will change hearts and minds of those at ‘Peters of Kensington’ and beyond! Screenshot (49)


“Zero Waste is such a special doorway”, I explained to anyone who engaged me in conversation about my lifestyle last year.  In mid-2016 when I chose to quit single-use plastic, motivated by the destruction I knew was happening in the oceans, I felt very scared. I worried that I’d miss out, make a fool of myself, become an outcast.  I couldn’t know that leaping out from the safe norm to that very different ‘zero waste’ lifestyle would 3 years later seem one of the most fulfilling choices I have ever made.  I have found zero waste to be a portal to new discoveries about my world, about other people and about myself, and as I discovered in Masters research interviews last year, other ‘zero wasters’  too discover this same doorway to greater choice and fulfilment.

More and more people I meet seem to be considering whether to go ‘plastic-free’, their first step in seriously reducing a personal ‘waste footprint’.   However, others express fear or sadness that reducing their own ‘waste footprint’ is irrelevant for they have seen levels of waste in S-E Asia, or realise manufacturers are not shouldering their share of responsibility, or understand that much of recycling is a ‘have’.  I’m aware of these issues too.  “We take along with us those who are ready for the journey,” says an African proverb.   Over this year I plan to document how I show up in the world as a ‘zero waste granny’ and why I continue to walk the talk.  For ‘those ready’, I want to share low impact practices and wider understandings that work for me today, as well as others I am yet to fully embrace. Meantime dear reader, do these new year’s resolutions for 2020 by Australian permaculture artist, Brenna Quinlan, challenge you into further practical behaviour shifts? They do me!  New Years resolutions

Continue reading “SHOWING UP AS A ZERO WASTE GRANNY IN 2020”

A BIKE RIDE FOR WASTEAID (with Grandpa Bear)

I’m a Zero Waste Granny so combining catching up with my grandsons, a cycling adventure and  Zero Waste seems obvious!  After time with my family in Vietnam, I’ll be cycling from Hanoi over the mountains to Luang Prabang in Laos, a distance of 750km, to catch up with more family members.

Ever worried about piles of waste in poorer communities around the world?   While volunteering in the Pacific and Central Africa,  I feel sad and powerless at the scale of the issue:  around 1 in 3 people globally don’t yet have decent waste management yet systems.

WasteAid’s work to change this, community by community, inspires me. I’ve made a choice to offset my air miles through a donation to  WasteAid and I’m hoping my cycling journey will raise awareness and funds to support this UK non-profit organisation.

  • From my research, I know that waste minimisation practices can be relatively simple to implement, improve the environment, create jobs and protect public health.  WasteAid has been helping people recycle their way out of poverty since 2015, sharing waste reduction know-how and skills with deprived communities that seek advice and support.
  • Plastic pollution in the marine environment scares me. WasteAid works with upstream and coastal communities to set up small recycling centres to keep plastic out of rivers and the oceans. 
  • I respect how WasteAid keeps things simple and relevant, maximising value to local communities, and ensuring local markets for any products made from recycled materials.
  • For me reusing organic waste is key. WasteAid shares skills in how to manage organic waste with local trainers so knowledge gets passed on from community to community.
  • I also respect the way WasteAid is focusing on low cost equipment.  In the viability of a recycling start-up in a deprived community, $10 makes a big difference. Simple plastics recycling kits can support people to clean up their environment and make some cash in the process.
  • I’ve chosen to help fund this inspiring work.  Pethaps this ride inspires friends and family to make a donation and spread news of WasteAid’s work? I hope so.

Already I’m hearing people I know now connecting with the work of WasteAid. It  w

warms the heart of this cycling Zero Waste Granny!




Cigarettes were part of my family’s history. My great-grandfather began a small cigarette company in England. My parents smoked. My husband smoked. I smoked.  I remember the awkwardness of cigarette butts. What to do with them?  Back then I didn’t know there was plastic in them, and that if dropped, birds and other marine life would eat them and get sick.

I know now. As a Zero Waste Granny, I spend hours each month as I walk along, picking up butts along with other roadside litter.  I know that each butt I pick up may save it being eaten by a seabird. Last week, the rain came and stormwater flooded down the side of the road, sweeping the roadsides clean and gifting every cigarette butt and piece of plastic litter into the world of marine creatures, those very ones that make the Bay so special for each one of us.

As a smoker, a friend gave me a special gift.  It was a small screw top tin that she had hand painted in my favourite colours. This little tin meant a lot to me, it made me feel valued and cared for, honoured my dignity and my choice to be a smoker, yet allowed me to value and care for the environment wherever I stood.  I kept it in my bag, in my car, used it at home.   Today, caring for our environment is more urgent than ever.  Like my friend all those years ago, I can find ways to support others using alternatives to just the quick drop to the ground of a butt, or two.   It may be public ashtrays, a painted tin,  or just a caring dialogue with a smoker about how together we can care for our Bay.  It’s our common future, eh?  #FarNorth.Us.Flourishing.



We’ve fallen into reliance on ‘them’, government and business, but as my previous blog outlined, we householders have significant power to create real change.  We seem to hang back, challenged by the loneliness of embarking on a journey such as  zero waste by ourselves.

So, why not make it ‘easy as’ and a whole lot more fun by doing stuff together with others?  This blog explores how getting together with others seems central to household adoption of zero wastefulness.  

‘Nelson Mandela had this genuine belief – and he often argued with me about the provability of it – that human beings are essentially ‘good-doing beings, beings who do good’… He argued that, “If you follow human beings from the moment they get up in the morning until they retire at night, you would find that most of them do the proper things most of the time, and that erring is an aberration” ‘[1] 

I guess you recognise, as I do,  Mandela’s viewpoint in your own understanding, perhaps partially buried under layers of social conditioning to the contrary.   It’s not surprising, given that recent research finds humankind the most empathetic and altruistic of all living species; we have evolved to naturally form small groups to work together for the common good.

It was clear in the interviews last year as part of my Masters research that shifting to zero waste lifestyles improved physical, mental and spiritual well-being.  Localising food production and introducing sharing schemes also led to a greater sense of community.  It got me thinking , ‘Could we join together with others whose company we value, our friends, our neighbours, or our colleagues, to make the journey to zero wastefulness a fun way to flourish both individually and as communities?

For me, the journey to zero wastefulness has given me a core sense of my unique purpose which was reason enough for me to change my habits.  I believe Mandela is right, we’re caring beings, but of course we each prioritise our caring into different areas and I’m aware that not everyone finds reducing waste an enjoyable and challenging adventure!   Reflecting on our district, there’s certainly no ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to waste reduction.

 Drifting, anchoring, voyaging or treasuring?

drifters, anchors etc Figure 1. Four levels of householder behaviour towards waste

Just as the varied species create the beauty of our New Zealand bush, so too, much of the charm of the Far North District comes from the diversity of our householders. With so many unique individuals, it’s hardly surprising we have such varying attitudes towards zero waste goals.  The model in Fig. 1 above describes 4 types of  householder behaviour  I notice here in the Far North.  Of course, responses to waste shift between levels depending on circumstances, my own included, but perhaps you recognise yourself or others in the descriptions below?

A Drifter meets their own strong need to belong by following market trends, doing whatever they believe their peers see as ‘on trend’. Drifters shift like flotsam and jetsam  flowing in and out with the tide.  Not everyone has the resources to deal with change, and Anchors stick with the way they’ve ‘always done things’.  Blocking out alternative options, even ways to minimise waste that might now better meet their needs, may be easier than opening up and grieving alone over awful environmental issues. Voyagers, on the other hand, need to connect with values they view as important, and so adventurously set out on a journey to reduce their own wastefulness amidst a sea of Drifters and Anchors.  It’s a lonely journey though, in a culture averse to conflict, but eased when they catch sight of Treasurers, beacons of light who can inspire and guide their journey. These Treasurers are the rare people at any age who choose to treasure what they have. These inspirational people find greater meaning in what they do and their connections with their brothers and sisters of all living species than in what they can purchase.

So, with all these different types, how will the message of zero wastefulness ever infiltrate the wider Far North community?  Anchors and drifters seem to hold back a flourishing Far North, don’t they? Well, I think not, they just need to get together with like-minded others, and here’s one way it could happen.

Spreading Positive Change – the Big Organising Model.


‘Big organising’, a new model for spreading positive change was used in the 2016 Bernie Sanders US election campaign.  With little money but such a transformational vision for change that it inspired people across party lines, in just 7 months, Sanders shifted from just 3% name recognition at the start to gaining 46% of the votes.  It is believed one further month would have tipped Clinton out of the nomination and the Trump campaign would have been defeated. Such are the hindsights of history,  but the important thing is how the campaign used volunteers to connect directly with 75 million Americans.

At public meetings, volunteers were asked to sign up to host a ‘house party’ inviting others around to their home to work together to spread the word.  After signing up, house party hosts came to the stage to tell others what would be unique and fun about their own house party.  It was a model that worked, with the confidence of others creating similar groups, with guidelines, support and by sharing ideas, they were able to decide for themselves how best to spread understanding of the Sanders vision.  The Big Organising model has now been used around the globe. Local leadership is not appointed, but arises out from the work the volunteers do, other people join in and the first wave of volunteers hands the baton on to others.

Would a public meeting with an invited panel of ‘Treasurers’ discussing a waste issue relevant to the community similarly inspire offers to be house party hosts?  I believe so, polls show that the majority of the NZ public is highly concerned about waste. My expectation is that some people will be moved by relevant speakers to want to gather a few friends, neighbours, or colleagues together and give some aspect of waste reduction a go. Hosts could be provided with guidelines, followed up with support from peer-to-peer text messaging, and results can fed back to monitor the movement.  The Big Organising model avoids a common problem of campaigns, burn-out of volunteers;  hosts can ‘hand on the baton’ to one or more of those attending to hold a further ‘house party’ with their own friends and so forth.

Zero waste priorities and constraints, as already mentioned, are very different for different people. However, as you will see from the following scenarios, appropriate house party gatherings could provide the peer support to engage not only Voyagers, but Anchors and Drifters too:

  •  a farmer inviting other farmers for a ‘zero waste bbq’ to discuss how they can reduce toxic plastic waste
  • a teenager gathering a group of friends to talk together about what would work for them to transform their school
  • a lunchroom get-together of colleagues to talk about what their organisation can do
  •  mothers with young babies bringing to the coffee table the plastic concern that bugs them most and discussing ways to get around it
  •  a couple of senior citizens hosting a machinery repair or clothing alteration session for young neighbours.

So, why  wait for ‘them’, be they government, council or business sector before change towards zero wastefulness and 100 % vitality happens?  Remember ‘Sihamba nabahambayo’ (‘We take along with us those who are ready for the journey‘)?  What if every Far North householder is ready? It’s just that like any journey, it’s a whole lot more fun with like-minded companions.

FND map



[1] Dare not Linger: the Presidential Years. Nelson Mandela & Mandla Langa (2017).p. 118-119 .https://us.macmillan.com/books/9780374134716


Its 2019 and time for new vision! Last year, though it felt odd being at university at the age of 60,  I chose to become a Masters research student.  I wanted to find out why mainstream waste minimisation strategies were not working and whether the national Māori zero waste organisation, Para Kore, had a more useful approach.  Studying has been ridiculously hard, immensely rewarding, has given me a vision for our region, the Far North.

What I’ve found while interviewing folk who were moving to zero waste lifestyles is an inspiring commonality.  New Zealand citizens of all ages and walks of life that adopt zero waste lifestyles demonstrate a spacious and contented sense of being who they want to be. ‘Zero wasters’ had formed greater connections with  neighbours and community,  felt good about themselves, and enjoyed improved household health and wellbeing. Costs were down too but it was their sense of respect for the natural ecosystems around them and a regained understanding of deep held principles that set these people apart.  You couldn’t help being drawn to their lifestyle and it started me thinking more widely. 


I’m convinced (and excited) that for us local householders, a flourishing Far North region is ‘ours for the taking’!  Far North Flourishing is a vision of every Far North home celebrating life, health and vitality.  Of neighbourhoods not just safe but are flourishing.  Loneliness a thing of the past, children thriving, and ecosystems regenerating.   Birdsong returning to the bush, people enjoying the support of their neighbours, and the coastal waters beginning to burst afresh with marine life.

Would you be willing to shelve for a moment your ‘Yes, but….’ thinking (not an easy thing to do, for reasons that will become clear later)  and read on,  open to this possibility of a flourishing Far North region?  To share the 3 reasons which lead me to this conviction,  I’ve mapped my thinking across three blogs: i. Where it Starts ii. There is no ‘Them’ iii. Let the Journey Begin.   Like all maps there are a few twists and turns so it requires a bit of focus. I’m trusting you, dear reader, find inspiration for a celebratory year ahead. 

 Part One

Where it Starts: Householders are powerful influencers 


 “You will never solve problems using the same thinking that created them”, Einstein advised. Yet, that’s what we householders seem to be doing now, expecting businesses and the government to resolve the issues they have created?  Flogging a dead horse. Householders angrily railing against the business sector or the state at not sorting problems that have arisen: river pollution, or mental health, or obesity or the issues of waste.  It’s not surprising citizens see themselves as powerless, given recent political history.

pic of neoliberal economy
Outdated 20th-century  view of an Economy

For decades politicians have relegated us householders to a role as ‘consumers’. We’ve been told we need an economy something like that in the picture above where the business sector becomes the driver of an ever-growing economy, benefits ‘trickle down’ to all, and the government is on hand to sort out any issues. It was a political idea called ‘neoliberalism’. But while this system was meant to work out for everyone, it’s increasingly clear to every ‘man in the street’ that it is failing. The whole system seems broken. Well, perhaps it is! More and more economists and global political thinkers believe this political idea is well past its use-by-date if it ever had one, and I agree! 

This neoliberal economic model was never about reality, merely how a few reasonably brainy economists wildly over-simplified economic thinking down to a basic model so people could ‘get it’.  And they did! Because of the model’s simplicity and the needs of the time, this neoliberal model of ‘free market economies’ and ‘decoupling environmental issues from economic growth’ swept across the world.  Embraced first by Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan in the 1980’s, New Zealand followed soon after.   This same over-simplified idea that ‘a growing economy will make everybody thrive’ underpins practices of the Far North District Council today.  

Neoliberal politics saw the Far North District Council’s role shift from coordinating services on behalf of householders to becoming an economic driver in the region.  When problems developed from business sector activities which couldn’t be resolved by the Council, that same ‘Yes, but..” response came to the fore with justification or blame in place of local people working together to develop solutions.  Far North Holdings became a commercial business arm no longer open to control by the public, accountability  for decisions taken and outcomes achieved by FNDC narrowed to financial measures while  accountability for social, cultural and environmental wellbeing was pushed aside. 

In the depths of our being, we sense the issues all around us, threatening our wellbeing and that of our beloved natural environment.   The gap between wealthy and poor is growing, pollution of our environment is more and more obvious, mental and physical health is patchier, and loneliness is at an all time high.  We feel the system is doomed and unable to create the wellbeing we need so we householders have increasingly disconnected from both local and national politics.  We are left with that useless but understandable pastime of railing angrily at ‘them’ out of frustration. And while many sense that blaming ‘them’  is having  little effect,  just flogging a dead horse, what else can be done? 

Well, hey, remember neoliberalism was just one story that a few guys dreamed up to help us get a handle on the complexity of the workings of national economies. As political journalist, George Monbiot [3] puts it, “Neoliberalism is dead: we need a new story”.  Lets get real: those people and organisations to whom we address our ‘they should do something’ rants are themselves powerless within a broken system.  Surely, we must look into alternatives? 

The good news is that a new political model is now visibly emerging around the world.  It’s emerging here in the Far North too, you just may not be aware of it yet. Often termed the “Politics of Belonging”[3], it’s based around a newer wiser model of the economy[4] (see diagram) that progressive economists these days realise better depicts the real world. 

pic of Monbiot economy
The 4 drivers of  a 21st-century Economy. 

Now a way to resolve the challenges we face in the 21st century becomes clear.  Look carefully, can you see how we householders are now not merely portrayed as ‘consumers’ but understood as playing a vital role in driving our economy? Householders have power, just as the State and Business sectors do.  Indeed, more so, for we are also the ones that look after and create the vitality of the commons, those shared resources that belong to us all that are so vital to our national economy. 

when the people lead the leaders will follow Gandhi

This is what is so exciting, so empowering, knowing that what we householders do makes an essential difference to the way the nation runs.  So, if we aren’t as powerless as we’ve led ourselves to believe in recent years, can what we Far North householders do make enough difference to allow our region to flourish?  I believe so.  

There’s an African phrase, ‘Sihamba nabahambayo‘ which means, ‘We take along with us those who are ready for the journey’[1].  My next blog, ‘From Rubbish to Flourish Part Two: There is no ‘them’’ is subtitled, ‘It’s too lonely by ourselves but ‘easy as’ when we do stuff together with others’. In this blog,  you will also discover if you are a ‘Drifter’, an ‘Anchor’, a ‘Voyager’ or a ‘Treasure’!  You may find it’s just the journey you’ve been waiting for. 
th (1)

[1] Dare not Linger: the Presidential Years. Nelson Mandela & Mandla Langa (2017).p. 31. https://us.macmillan.com/books/9780374134716

[3] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kisXBXBycn8

[4] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1BHOflzxPjI



Is it time to consider how we, the citizens of New Zealand have ended up with a 4000 tonne mountain of unwanted paper and plastic recycling near Thames highlighted on the News this week? [1]As an increasing number of us realise, this build-up of recycling  is just one visible tip of a much larger waste eruption that faces us, but where did it all go so wrong?  *

The inevitability of waste is a myth! It’s very recent.  Just a short time ago, we, the people of NZ,  handed over our responsibility for deciding what to do with things we no longer needed.  Are you aware for example that a number of Pacific languages such as I-Kiribati traditionally contained no word for ‘waste’? (Biodegradable plant material was simply placed on vacant land or recycled within taro pits for compost, while  human and other waste was disposed of into the reef for final removal by the incoming tide).  It was just part of  daily life. Pacific middens containing long-extinct horned turtle bones in Efate, Vanuatu, date back 2900 years: as individuals and as local communities we took care of our own discards on our own land.

The same cultural practices that had worked for taking responsibility of our own discarded items accompanied the early migrations to Aotearoa NZ.  As early as the 14th century at Wairau Bay, carbon dating of moa egg shell and bones shows how locals took responsibility for their discards within their own whenua.  In pre-colonial times,  Maori communities maintained their well-being through a complex system of sustainable processes with different products such as shellfish waste, human waste and shavings from wood carving each dealt with separately.  At the industrial Pa sites of Heretaunga and Castle Point evidence of early separation of discarded products for ‘recycling’ has been found; stone, shell and bone flakes were set aside and stored for conservation and re-use. Captain James Cook praised the practices of communities in Poverty Bay, noting that “Every house, or every little cluster of three or four houses, was furnished with a privy, so that the ground was everywhere clean. The offals of their food, and other litter, were also piled up in regular dunghills, which probably they made use of at a proper time for manure”.

Even in early colonial NZ, while populations remained small, unwanted materials were disposed of on people’s own land or within the community. After the 2011 Christchurch earthquake, the excavation of Edward Hiorn’s property, an early settler who arrived in 1862, uncovered a number of rubbish pits. One pit contained tin and iron while 1037 artifacts including ceramics, glass bottles, clay pipes, shoes and clothing were found in a further large pit at the back of the property.

The pivotal moment came at the end of the 19th century when we started to congregate in towns and cities.  Once the idea caught hold that ‘miasma’, a gas emanating from putrefying matter, was causing disease outbreaks, public health anxieties became so strong that the state took over the municipal collection and disposal of rubbish.   What would have happened if  in the 1880s in Wellington for example, we’d looked into how to avoid discarding items and materials rather than scavenger carts collecting household and business refuse and dumping it in piles to be burnt at the City Council Yards?

Once we as producers, individual citizens and local communities washed our hands of responsibility and put discarded material into the hands of municipal and government bodies, it was ‘out of sight and out of mind’.  It has since been so very easy to view ‘waste’ as an unfortunate by-product of society for  which we need take no personal responsibility.

The era of ‘waste management’ was born. Rather than reflecting on the relative benefit to our brothers and sisters of all living species of eradicating the concept of ‘waste’, we allowed the focus to shift to centralised policy and technological solutions.

For manufacturers too, this acceptance by citizens that the State should take full responsibility for discarded products and packaging removed any requirement for businesses to take the living world and its future wellbeing into account.   With this problem streamlined, the call after World War II to rebuild national economies led to the creation of the ‘consumer society’ and the advent of the ‘chemical age’.  The mountains of waste we left others to manage ramped up.  The advertising industry used ever more creative product packaging to promote mass production and disposable products, while at the same time the composition of discarded products changed as wonderful new plastics emerged from the petro-chemical industry.  Almost imperceptibly at first, a new level of complexity in managing materials discarded as end-of-life waste began.  By celebrating the benefits of convenience over durability, we normalised disposable plastic products and single-use packaging.

Today the impact of this can be seen in the production of composite materials, of which Tetrapaks are a well-known example (see pic).  We view these as highly efficient ‘cheap’ and ‘disposable’ products because we, along with fellow citizens and business directors, close our minds to block out uncomfortable environmental and social externalities. (In NZ those Tetrapak containers that are recycled are processed at the Materials Recovery Facility in Onehunga and shipped in bales to Korea, India and Australia. They are then soaked in water to separate the paper from the plastic and/or aluminium layers. Its a hugely complex and inefficient process, but we gain a feel-good factor: extracted wood fibre content can be turned into products like cardboard boxes and toilet paper.  For Pacific island countries, the economics of such a process render it infeasible.) The number and complexity of such products is growing, creating complex waste streams which are too difficult or too costly to sort and process: often the entire waste stream gets sent to landfill.

Back in the 1980’s, the time my own adulthood began to bloom, it was already evident that problems arising from poor waste disposal were not just land-based dumpsite issues but affecting the marine environment across the Pacific. As far back as 1991 the NZ researcher Gregory emphasised the need to educate the public about the environmental problems in the oceans arising from the ‘indiscriminate disposal of plastics and other persistent synthetic compounds’. Even at that stage Gregory was predicting the seriousness of the marine plastics issue, ‘It is unlikely that these problems can ever be solved by regulation,’ he stated, and pinned his own hopes on ‘technological advances’.   Along with the rest of us, embedded in ‘solid waste managment’ thinking, he too failed to question the responsibility of citizens and businesses for preventing materials that need to be discarded to arise in the first place. Twenty-five years on,  it seems the narrative is unchanged.  Yet does the answer really lie in technological solutions?  And is waste really inevitable? What if we went back to having to discard items in our own backyards – would we still allow that packaging into our homes?

*This Zero Waste Granny is currently undertaking research within a Masters in International Development.  My research topic –  how the inspirational Maori Zero Waste organisation, Para Kore, may provide a different way of approaching our current waste crisis. Above is the first of six myths I am discovering about modern solid waste management approaches which prevent us finding deep solutions to living in harmony and restoring the natural world in NZ.

[1] https://www.tvnz.co.nz/one-news/new-zealand/chinas-ban-foreign-waste-wake-up-call-nz-environmentalists