Ingenuity changes communities, from the Antipodes to Argyll & Bute

A few weeks ago I attended the WASTEMINZ annual conference in Rotorua, New Zealand. 

Written By Iain Gulland  |  3 Dec 15

It was great to be able to share with the people there the work we’re doing here in Scotland to move to a zero waste society, and how a circular economy strategy is at the heart of our shift away from the make, use and dispose paradigm. 

A highlight of the trip was a visit to the town of Raglan on the west coast of the North Island, three hours south of Auckland. Xtreme Waste is a dynamic social enterprise which runs the town’s waste and recycling system. Over 20 years ago, under the leadership of an inspirational Rick Thorpe, the community developed a ‘people-centred’ solution to its waste problem seeking to increase recycling, not just for environmental reasons, but also to use the materials being salvaged to create and support local employment.

Despite achieving a recycling rate of over 75% for the area and creating 30 plus jobs this is no traditional recycling operation. A volume-based approach has been turned on its head to create a ‘slow’ material-specific system with tailored opportunities for many of the community’s various waste streams. What’s more is that the system is continually evolving as new ideas are explored and technology adapts; as well as the resource stream itself changes.  Xtreme Waste has recognised the risks of simply relying on an external market for collected materials, where commodity prices can dip and impact significantly on the health of their business and sought to build resilience through the repurposing of these materials within their community thus creating jobs and local business.

The circularity benefits of high value materials and wages in the local economy are what drives the operation and makes it one of the most successful community enterprises in New Zealand. The city of Auckland, with a population of almost 1.4 million is now keen to replicate this, with the Raglan model being adopted in a number of community hubs as part of a new city waste strategy.

L-R Frank Stubbs from Zero Waste Scotland, children from Bute, Reeni-Kennedy Boyle of Fyne Futures.There are parallels with the approach taken by Fyne Futures in the delivery of Zero Waste Bute, the latest ‘Zero Waste Town’, setting out to demonstrate the significant social, economic and environmental benefits of the journey to zero waste.

Last week I visited Rothesay, where I helped formally launch the Zero Waste Bute initiative. The commitment and passion of the team at Fyne Futures was impressive. With a ten-year track record delivering on services, employment opportunities and training commitments, there was also a sense of confidence that they had the community behind them.

As Raglan has Rick, Bute has Reeni Kennedy-Boyle, a capable and engaging leader who aims to balance pragmatism with creativity to ensure the vision is both relevant and inspiring by all the various parts of her community. Similar to what I saw in Raglan the plans on Bute are all about people. From the island’s residents who are taking part in a new future for resource management, to local business leaders who are keen to get involved (especially in the drive to make the island a ‘green tourism’ destination) through to the workforce themselves whose development will always be the mainstay of what Fyne Futures are about. The presentation of training certificates to Fyne Futures staff at event last week was testament to that.

Bute and Dunbar, Scotland’s first Zero Waste Town, are the trailblazers. Their success will be our success. Like Raglan their story isn’t all about chasing targets but generating enterprise and employment to sustain their communities well into the future. But they are also about inspiring others and demonstrating the art of the possible. And what appears to be possible is the notion that it’s okay to value a resource in ways other than the selling price, but by the opportunity it offers their local community. Making these opportunities happen, and last, feels like the real circular economy that we should be aiming for. 

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