Zero Waste effort wins at Masters Games

By Nelson Lebo

By 8.30 on Sunday morning I was covered in stale beer and smeared with butter chicken sauce.

It was not a scene from The Hangover II, but the scene at the service entrance to the Masters Games' village at Springvale Park where a team of five hardy volunteers and I had just sorted 36 barrels of resources passing through what was the Zero Waste Events programme implemented at this year's Games.

Of that total, we tallied 14 wheelie bins of glass bottles, 13 bins of aluminium cans, four bins of plastic bottles, four bins of biodegradables, a giant stack of flattened corrugated cardboard boxes, and just 1 bins of general rubbish. Our resource recovery rate peaked at over 95 per cent by volume and close to 99 per cent by mass (on account of the weight of all those glass bottles). This is a world-class effort more than likely unmatched anywhere in New Zealand.

The NZ Masters Games organisers, trustees, and volunteers have much to be proud of for this accomplishment.

But like any world-class athletic feat, this performance had humble beginnings in smaller arenas.

As well, the story of Zero Waste Events consists of a string of individuals who each committed themselves to a team that grew bigger and stronger with each new member.

It is also the story of ordinary people advancing an ordinary idea to achieve something extraordinary.

This is how it began ...

Once upon a time, there was an overfed, long-haired, leaping gnome who decided to volunteer at the YMCA of Wanganui's Connecting Families Day.

He used his knowledge of waste management to encourage the Y to order only biodegradable cups for water and hot drinks. This is called, "pre-cycling" and the Y agreed.

With that sorted, almost the entire resource stream for the event would be recoverable as compost or one of the many categories of recycling used in Wanganui.

The waste minimisation effort was so successful that his mate took notice.

He said: "Hey mate, why don't we apply for funding so we can replicate this."

The gnome agreed.

Together they wrote an application to the Positive Futures Trust, and received a modest amount of funding.

The pair managed a couple of small events in Wanganui before taking the idea to Mike Cronin at the NZ Masters Games.

Mike was receptive, and must have mentioned it to staff member Simon Watson, who expressed an interest in joining the Zero Waste effort.

Over the course of eight months, the four met to share ideas, plan, and try to get as organised as possible before the opening ceremony.

And then we were off like sprinters to a starter's pistol.

Thanks to the help of our Games volunteers, we managed the 10-day event like a relay race, passing on the Zero Waste baton from weary team members to fresh team members day by day, and all the way to a world-class finish.

From the gnome, to his friend, to Mike, to Simon, and to the volunteers, each character in this story made a decision to make a difference.

In Dr. Seuss' well-known story, The Lorax, the tale ends with a moral summed up in one word: Unless.

"Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing's going to get better, it's not."

This is how the Power of One becomes the Power of Community.

Your Sincerely, Leaping Gnome.

Nelson Lebo is co-founder of the ECO School with his wife, Dani. - 022 635 0868 - 06 344 5013. They have extensively renovated an old villa at Castlecliff with green principles and sustainability in mind.

- Wanganui Chronicle

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