Trading Tales: Zero Waste Heroes save the day

THE real heroes of the recent Newtown Festival were the ones standing by the rubbish bins. A team of Zero Waste Heroes in colourful costume, volunteers organised by sisters Renee and Vanessa Rushton, assisted fairgoers to direct their rubbish into the correct recycling bins.

Renee, who is also on the Steering Committee of the Timebank, is experienced in the field of sustainability. She works at Sustainability Trust as an advisor, giving members of the public advice in the areas of waste, water, edibles and energy. Renee’s idea for Zero Waste Heroes came from Clifton Terrace Model School, where they were awarding badges to children who brought litterless lunches.

“I didn’t think they’d mind if I called our recycling volunteers ‘Zero Waste Heroes’ too,” says Renee, “For me, being a Zero Waste Hero is about championing efforts to reduce waste to landfill”.

Sister Vanessa, a new and enthusiastic member of the Timebank, agrees that using humour to make the idea of recycling fun for the public is a great idea.

“It’s about getting people to embrace the idea of reducing waste sent to landfill, whether that is by reducing, reusing or knowing the ins and out of recycling and composting”, she says.

To recruit volunteers for festival day, the sisters started by asking their friends.

“Many of them are solid recyclers and composters already and also Newtowners keen to help out on fair day,” says Vanessa, “From there we asked the wider circles of the Newtown Flat Network Facebook group, the Timebank and Newtown Residents’ Association.”

The message went even further afield, with Wellington Mayor Celia Wade-Brown forwarding it to her networks.

On the day, volunteers assisted the public to put their waste in the correct bin, cleaning it if necessary, and replacing the bins when they were full.

“We did a briefing a few days earlier, so some of the volunteers were also giving fairgoers recycling and waste reduction tips as well, which was great,” says Vanessa.

Renee agrees, “Volunteers seemed to be really into it”.

The scheme, which had been considered a trial run due to a late organisational start, went very well.

“We diverted 10 x 240 litre wheelie bins of recyclable and compostable items. Having volunteers oversee the bins, washing food from packaging and emptying dregs into a slops bucket, meant that what we did recycle was clean and therefore a high quality recyclable product,” says Vanessa.

Of the day’s results, Renee says, “While what we recycled was less than 10% of the total rubbish collected, this year’s effort was a trial with only two recycling stations to see if it would be possible to scale up next year. We’re positive we’ll be able to do it on a larger scale next year.”

The Rushton sisters were very impressed with the public response and want to thank the team of volunteers for offering their time and expertise.

As Vanessa sums up, “We think it worked well because people want to be involved, but also want to be able to party and enjoy the day, so it was a happy medium. Watch this space in 2014!”

Jennifer Niven