Waste management

What is waste?

Students with their worm farmMangakahia Area School students show their worm farm. All the school's organic waste is fed to the worms. Waste is anything discharged or discarded by people, and is produced in many forms - solid, liquid, hazardous and gaseous. Northland currently produces more than an estimated 160,000 cubic metres of solid waste in a year, around 70 percent of which is domestic refuse. The volume of solid waste is increasing and is expected to reach an estimated 190,000 tonnes, annually, by the year 2006 - unless people change their habits.






Why should we care?

In Whangarei, we generate enough refuse each year to cover a rugby ground to the height of the goal posts. In a year, each household makes a heap as big as its living room. Schools have the potential to create a lot of waste because of the large numbers of people who gather there for five days of the week.


Recycled bottle windows in the Hundertwasser toilets in Kawakawa.Recycled bottles make a beautiful window in the Hundertwasser toilets at Kawakawa. Most students bring a schoolbag to school with a lunchbox of food that is often wrapped in plastic cling film to keep it fresh, perhaps with a snack roll or bag of chips that comes in a plastic wrapper. Each person probably goes to the toilet several times, creating waste. In the classroom, they may use several pieces of paper and throw them in the bin if they make a mistake.

Recycling helps to reduce the amount of waste that is buried in landfills, and can reduce living costs. At present, Whangarei's household and industrial rubbish is trucked to Redvale landfill in Auckland. A network of transfer stations is set up throughout the district to process waste.


















The Council's role and policies

Most of the region's solid waste (Far North and Whangarei Districts) is handled through transfer stations and trucked to the Redvale landfill in Auckland. There has also been a growing public awareness of the need to reduce the amount of waste produced, and support for recycling facilities. Major recycling operations and regular collections are established in the Far North and Whangarei Districts.

Liquid or water borne waste is also produced in significant quantities, mainly in the form of sewage and related sludges. Nearly all the region's major settlements are serviced with community sewage treatment systems involving oxidation ponds or package treatment plants. The respective district councils generally operate them, although there are several private systems in place.

Most of Northland's small settlements and scattered rural houses rely on septic tank systems with sludge being periodically collected and disposed of into special ponds or trenches.

The Far North, Kaipara and Whangarei District Councils are responsible for the collection and disposal of solid and liquid waste in their areas. The Northland Regional Council has primarily been involved in regulating and monitoring the discharges from these facilities, and where necessary, controlling the environmental effects of waste disposal, particularly in landfills, sewage treatment plants and other major disposal sites. The Northland Regional Council facilitates the disposal of much of the region's waste hazardous substances.

Contributing to the wise management of waste in the north is one of the Northland Regional Council's many responsibilities. The responsibility for this comes as part of the Resource Management Act. The Northland Regional Council is responsible for controlling discharges of contaminants into or on to land, air or water under Section 30 of the Act. At the same time, the NRC aims to encourage clean production, waste minimisation and recycling in the region.

Northland's efforts in cleaning up its act through more effective waste management comes as part of a growing push, nationally. In March, 2002, the Government released a new waste management policy. This aims to encourage local authorities, including the Northland Regional Council, Far North District Council, Kaipara District Council and Whangarei District Council, to adopt policies to ensure that as far as practicable, the people producing waste in New Zealand should meet the costs of the waste they produce. While this is likely to lead to higher costs for waste disposal, the Government believes it will encourage better waste management around the country.

The main waste management issues faced by the Northland community and its Councils are:

  • the quantities of waste being produced;
  • the standard of waste treatment and disposal facilities;
  • illegal dumping of refuse, particularly along the coast and into waterways;
  • waste discharges from boats and the lack of pump out facilities in popular mooring areas;
  • the impact of septic tank discharges in some settlements, particularly along the coast;
  • extra waste, refuse and sewage generated by the large number of summer visitors to Northland; and 
  • the safe disposal of hazardous wastes.

The problem with waste

Think about the word "away''. It's still there, even if you can't see it. In fact, waste never really goes away. We might put it in the rubbish and forget about it. However, it is then moved to a landfill or recycling centre where it will continue to take up space. If it is liquid, it might be poured down a drain where it will mix with other fluids and end up in a stream and eventually the ocean. Remember drains should only drain rain.

Fish, shellfish, other marine life and birds do not like to swim in polluted water and will die if pollution levels become poisonous.

Recycling ideas

Barry Summer-Law and Mangakahia Area School.Environmental education expert Barry Summer-Law checks the coloured bins in the junior classes at Mangakahia Area School. The colour coding helps the children remember what items are meant to go in each.  Northland Regional Council waste management officer, Jerry Nelson, says most Northlanders could easily reduce their rubbish by half. This could be done by sorting out materials that can be recycled. Mr Nelson says most transfer stations and landfills in Northland have places for recycling materials - for plastic, cardboard, paper and glass.

Many Northland students and teachers are already reducing waste at their schools.
For example, Whangarei's Maunu and Glenbervie primary schools no longer have rubbish bins outside in their school grounds. Instead students "pack in and pack out''. This means children take any food and wrappers they have brought to school home at the end of the day. Students bring a bag to school for scraps. This system also helps parents reduce waste when they realise how much their children are managing to eat! Some children take one bite out of an apple and throw the rest away. Parents may then decide that quarter of an apple will do.

This new approach to waste management at these schools has made a big contribution to the incinerators at these schools no longer being in operation - Maunu's incinerator has been dismantled. Incinerators can be a source of air pollution hazards.



Kamo Intermediate.Kamo Intermediate students take refuge on their island of life next to a bird feeding platform where waste fruit is placed.

So, what is your school doing to reduce rubbish? Find out if you don't know. And remember, even one simple action makes a difference! Let the Northland Regional Council know if you'd like to share your waste management successes, so we can share tips and knowledge. This will strengthen our region's waste management and help us be proud of what we do. Let's celebrate our successes in this area!

What is your family doing to recycle the waste produced from your household? Once again, find out if you don't know. How about starting up one small job to help your family tread more lightly on the earth. There are lots of ways to make changes in your home.
Vegetation from your garden can be made into compost. Paper and cardboard can be bundled separately and taken to the Pohe Island Landfill or transfer stations. Lots of household rubbish can be recycled by taking it to your school's art supplies storage area. This is great for art, technology, maths and lots of other subjects!

Many community service groups have recycling bins near supermarkets. Your family's spare clothes, blankets, curtains and shoes can be recycled for use by another family.
Old household appliances, furniture and demolition materials can be taken to the Pohe Island Landfill in Whangarei where they are recycled.

Kamo Intermediate in Whangarei is another Northland school doing its bit in radically refusing to rubbish. It has been involved in waste management studies and developed the concept further by creating "islands of life'' at the school. These are areas planted by the students to attract birds. Feeding platforms have been erected in these areas at a safe distance from the ground. Students are encouraged to place uneaten fruit pieces on the platforms as food for the birds. Bird boxes have also been erected in trees to encourage nesting.

The students identified areas in their school where waste was occurring and investigated setting up recycling bins to separate out different types of waste. They also visited scrap yards and a landfill to investigate recycling options.

Kamo Intermediate waste management studies.Kamo Intermediate School students who took part in waste management studies.

Mangakahia Area School, west of Whangarei, has been developing waste minimisation strategies over the past few years. All areas of the school now have new bins to sort waste products and students are being given good incentives to use them. Teachers are on board with the project and are role modelling well. This approach is already showing lots of benefits which include saving the school money. In the first week of 2002 the school slashed the amount of rubbish it sent to the landfill by 20 percent. In the second week that saving doubled.

Barry Summer-Law finds out about recycling bins at Mangakahia Area School.Environmental education expert Barry Summer-Law finds out about the recycling bins at Mangakahia Area School from a student. Also pictured is teacher Jackie Young.

The school has introduced plastic-free lunch days and is encouraging children to take home waste products that cannot be recycled. A recycling centre has been set up and children from different areas of the school are rostered to deal with the various bins. The school has set up an enviro group which includes the principal and the caretaker - whose cooperation is a major factor in the success of the project.

Guinea pigs, a worm farm and the school's Millennium Garden project are also part of Mangakahia Area School's project of "Radically Refusing to Rubbish''.

More information is available on Mangakahia Area School's website, www.mangakahia.school.nz

Kaikohe West School, in the mid North, has a website dedicated to its waste minimisation strategy at www.kwswaste.homestead.com/  The school's aim is to improve its waste disposal practices, and provide valuable learning experiences through all curriculum areas for pupils, who will respect and treat the environment with the values that are passed on to them. The school also hopes that the students, in their own ways, will begin to influence their families/whanau in good environmental protection practices by waste reduction, recycling of waste materials, composting and worm farming.

The school has stopped using its incinerator, and plans to take care of most of its waste by using a worm farm, composting area and recycling station. The school also has a shadehouse and hot house.

Slash Trash of Kaitaia, has supported the Kaikohe West School's project right from the start. Slash Trash is a project run by CBEC, Community Business and Education Collective, which aims to reduce the amount of waste produced in the Far North by 50 percent. A Slash Trash representative visited Kaikohe West School often to help the school develop its plans to reduce waste.

A recipe used by Kaikohe West school for making a worm farm in a bath is:


  • A layer of coarse scoria at the bottom.
  • A layer of sand.
  • A layer of fine scoria or stones.

Cover with weed mat.
Make the worm bedding.
In go the worms.
Cover them slightly and put in a little garden lime.

Morningside School in Whangarei has been granted an NRC Environmental Curriculum Award to help establish its worm farm. The school used several recycled baths, such as the one shown here, to build its farm.

Morningside Primary students.Morningside Primary School students in one of the recycled baths.

A Māori perspective

Clean and pure resources are important to Māori.

At Te Kura Kaupapa Māori O Te Rawhiti Roa in Tikipunga, Whangarei, children are taught to preserve and nurture the land, water and air, and to take only as much food as is needed. They learn that managing the resources in the world around them is important so that there's a balance between demand and use. This means not creating rubbish in the first place. The idea of rubbish tips filled with rubbish that will never really break down is abhorrent. The children grow to understand that if items such as plastic generate waste that cannot be adequately dealt with, these should not be created in the first place. The children know that the sky, earth and water are always related, and must be nurtured by every culture for the sustainability of our planet.

The kura aims to lobby Government to reduce the amount of plastic being used in packaging.

What can you do?

The Reduce, Reuse, Recycle message is shown in this Oromahoe School artwork.
Take heart - even one small action does make a difference when it comes to recycling!

  • Find out what's happening in your school.
  • Set something up in your class.
  • Start with a waste audit.
  • List all the items your school throws away. Don't forget places like the classrooms, playground, office and library.
  • Weigh the rubbish from a day's collection.
  • Make a chart showing the different items that are being thrown away. Think about ways these items could be recycled.
  • Set up a recycling centre, with clear labels on each bin used. Differently coloured bins might be a good way to help even the youngest children at school learn the correct bins to put items in.

Radically refusing to rubbish can be easily remembered with following the saying - Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.

  • Refuse to create rubbish - refuse plastic shopping bags when you can take along a bag of your own. Refuse to buy items that use wasteful packaging.
  • Reduce the amount of rubbish created by sorting rubbish into items that can be recycled.
  • Reuse items whenever possible. For example, paper can be written on both sides, milk cartons can be used again as plant pots.
  • Recycle items by using the recycling centres at landfill and transfer stations, or mending and repairing items so they don't need to be discarded.

Reuse waste

Reusing waste conserves resources and reduces pollution.

Use it again: Before you throw something away, think whether it can be used again. Wash and save yoghurt pots, takeaway containers, glass jars and steel cans. They can be used again for things like storing odds and ends, lunches, picnics or plant pots.

Consider hiring or sharing items that are not used often instead of buying them. Equipment like lawnmowers could be shared between neighbours, and the cost of maintenance could also be shared. That way everyone saves money, too.
Your rubbish could be someone else's treasure. Why not donate items to charities or opportunity shops, or sell them to a secondhand shop. Secondhand auctions are also a great way to pick up bargains. Secondhand items are also gathered at the Pohe Island landfill in Whangarei where they are cleaned up and sold.

Try repairing or mending items instead of always buying a new one. Items like shoes can often be mended and bicycles can be fixed and repainted to look new again. These measures all mean less waste going into landfills.

Look after your possessions so that they last longer. Cars, appliances and clothing can last much longer if they are properly maintained and cared for. 

Make a worm farm

Worm farms are a great way to let nature gobble up waste and turn it into compost for the garden even while we are sleeping. There are a number of schools in Northland with worm farms.

The worms are kept together in bins, old baths or other containers to breed and break down waste.

You only need a small number of worms to start off. Not all worms are suitable to stock your worm bin however. Red Worms (Lumbricus rubellus), Tiger Worms (Eisenia Foetida) or Blue Worms (Perionyx Excavatus) are all suitable for composting. They are all friendly little fellows that will live happily together in your worm system.....and they are all HUNGRY.

The numbers of worms will soon increase.

The worms will eat food from lunch or kitchen scraps, egg cartons, newspaper and paper. They need damp but not wet conditions, and be neither too hot nor too cold.
There should be no pesticides or fly spray used near the worm farm.

There are a number of ways to set up a worm farm. One way is to build or obtain a wood or plastic bin. Drill holes in two sides and on the bottom. Use a piece of flat wood or plastic sheet to cover the bin.

Moisten newspaper with water and place in the bottom. Sprinkle in some eggshells.
Place worms in the box.

Bury about 250-500 grams of food scraps once a week. Make sure to rotate the placement of the food. Do not dispose of meat or dairy products into your worm farm as rats and flies will be attracted.

The worm bedding should be changed every three to six months. Remove newly made compost and replace with newspaper strips.

When you have finished worm composting, tip the compost, worms and any newspaper scraps on to the garden. 

Make compost

Compost.Many layers make good compost.

Compost is natural fertiliser and soil conditioner that can be made at school or home from organic wastes. In a compost heap, these wastes are converted into rich humus by tiny soil micro-organisms, insects and earthworms.

Compost heaps should be about 1 metre square and half to 1 metre high. Manufactured compost bins are neat, covered containers that can fit in a small space. However, it is easy to make your own.

Compost bins have no bottoms and should be placed on the bare ground. The composting process works best in warm, moist locations.

Basic layering
Compost is best made with a mix of "greens'' and "browns''. "Greens'' are rich in nitrogen and include kitchen food scraps, fruit peels, coffee grounds, tea bags, grass and plant clippings, hair, fur, animal manure, blood and bone, seaweed, fish bones, chopped weeds (as long as they are not noxious weeds).

"Browns'' are high in carbon and include dried leaves, sawdust, wood shavings, hay, peat, vacuum cleaner dust, shredded paper and newspaper, egg shells and crushed sea shells, wood ash.

Begin with a bottom layer of coarse twiggy material, followed by layers of green and brown wastes, and top with a layer of soil. The heap will need to be turned two or three times before it is ready. The compost will look like potting mix.

Turn the heap:

  • after it heats up;
  • if it becomes too wet - add more brown material; and
  • if it starts to smell.


Recycling paper 

Jill Culforth demonstrates.Jill Cutforth of the Paper Mill demonstrates paper-making at a Council teachers' workshop.

Everybody uses paper in many ways. We use paper to write on, draw pictures on, to print documents from the computer, to wrap presents in and to read about the world news.

New Zealand does have a lot of forests which are grown as a sustainable resource for our paper needs and for the export of logs.





Paper brick maker.A paper brick maker.

However, paper does take up space in our landfills, and can be recycled.

South of Whangarei is the Paper Mill where all sorts of materials are recycled and made into beautiful paper items. School visits are welcomed at the Paper Mill, and children get a chance to try their hand at making paper. The Paper Mill uses old hand towels, sheets and rags, old newspaper, even noxious weeds with lots of fibre such as wild ginger and rice grass.



Paper bricks.Paper bricks are great for fires.Most landfills and transfer stations offer paper and cardboard recycling facilities. It is important to separate the two correctly as they are made through different processes.

Most waste paper is used to make paperboard, with some being used in printing and writing paper, tissues and toilet paper. Egg cartons, produce trays and hospital equipment are also made from recycled paper.

White paper has historically been made through bleaching with chlorine. The chemicals used are highly toxic and these can poison rivers and marine areas from waste containing papers made this way. Some manufacturers are using environmentally friendly methods of bleaching using oxygen and ozone. Buying chlorine-free paper is a good way of helping the environment.

Action Planner

What's a great way to get your school's refusing to rubbish programme underway? Simply by starting! This can often be the hardest part. Whether you're a student or a teacher, one great way is to use the action planner on the next page. This helps you to plan your strategy for radically refusing to rubbish. It's an easy way to sort out the different parts of a project.

Start with your vision or problem at the top of the action planner. One part of the action planner to spend a fair bit of time on is named, ``What are we going to do?'' Brainstorm for ideas. You will be amazed what can come up. Once this has been worked through, you can assign each of the members of your group or class with a task. Planning properly will give your projects much greater chance of success.

Try using this action planner in your classroom, your school, at home and in other areas of your own life.

Action planner.

A great new Northland-based, waste management video has recently been produced by Slash Trash. It focuses on aspects including recycling and reusing and looks at how a range of Northland's waste materials is further processed in the region and in Auckland. It also includes Northland schools, showing how they are taking action for great environmental management through a range of waste management activities.

Sources: Northland Regional Council Waste Management Officer Jerry Nelson; Northland Regional Council Education Officer Susan Botting; Whangarei District Council brochure, Rua Watchdog on Waste; Rio +10; Waste, Auckland Regional Council; Alex Henare, Te Kura Kaupapa Māori O Te Rawhiti Roa in Tikipunga; Jan Jones, Kamo Intermediate School; Kaikohe West School; Jill Cutforth, Paper Mill.