Ideas mushroom for reducing waste

By Alexandra Newlove

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Ash Holwell says mushrooms could prove part of the solution to minimising some businesses' waste going to landfill. Photo / Michael Cunningham
Ash Holwell says mushrooms could prove part of the solution to minimising some businesses' waste going to landfill. Photo / Michael Cunningham

In the bin and out of mind is the approach many take to rubbish - but a young designer wants to change this and is seeking the help of Northland businesses.

Whangarei's Ash Holwell visited the Puwera Landfill to kick off his involvement with Rekindle's "Resource: Rise Again" challenge, which asks designers around the country to investigate waste streams and create useful objects from things bound for the tip.

The dump, 10km south of Whangarei, is equipped to handle 3 million tonnes of rubbish and is a sight everyone should confront, Mr Holwell said. "It is pretty shocking what's going [there] and what we're creating, and it is extremely hidden. Not many people even know where it is."

At Purewa, rubbish sits atop about 4m of gravel and clay, which hug a felt layer coated in a substance that solidifies when it gets wet - the idea being no nasties can permeate into the ground. There are multiple testing stations around the landfill, and the nearby stream's pH levels are taken every half an hour, while the dump's "juice" is pumped away to Whangarei's wastewater treatment plant.

While the amount of household rubbish going to landfill was undoubtedly a huge problem, it more often comprised products like excess plastic that "just needed to not exist".

Mr Holwell's project would instead focus on creative ways of recycling the waste streams that were essential to industry, but difficult to reduce, like wood off-cuts, thought to make up 20 to 30 per cent of waste going to landfill.

Another example of this was the sand used in sandblasting - called garnet - which becomes blunt and useless after a certain number of uses and is sent to landfill. It also became contaminated with whatever it was used on, often heavy metals.

Mr Holwell's has come up with an unlikely solution: "A great way of remediating things with heavy metals is with oyster mushrooms, which break down heavy metals really well. Then the second process would be around what to do with the sand itself ... I'd love to talk with [glassmakers] around whether it's a suitable sand for glass."

Rekindle was a non-profit which supported job creation through the full utilisation of waste. The Resource: Rise Again project culminates with an exhibition of designers' work in December.

Any local businesses with a waste stream they would like help with can contact ash.holwell@gmail.com

- Northern Advocate

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