In its former life the Sustainable Whanganui building was Whanganui's remand prison.

Now, much like the materials inside, it's having a second life as a drop-off and collection point for reusable or recyclable materials diverted from landfill.

"Everyone who volunteers here is doing 10 other things in other places for the environment," volunteer Cushela Robson said.

"They're doing the prison bag project making 10,000 bags - I think they're up to 6,000 - all from recycled material and stops it going to landfill. Various businesses give us their offcuts and people bring in fabric to donate."

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The material for the bags is just one of the many items dropped off at the Sustainable Whanganui headquarters.

"There's three garages filled with bike parts out the back here, then Alan repairs them and they work out a price for them. It depends on people's incomes," she said. "Sometimes they're free for people."

Like its contents, the Sustainable Whanganui HQ is recycled. Photo / Georgie Ormond.
Like its contents, the Sustainable Whanganui HQ is recycled. Photo / Georgie Ormond.

The centre is run by paid and volunteer staff who are all passionate about educating local residents on the importance of the three "R's" - refusing, reusing and recycling.

"With the batteries no one really knows what to do with them," Enviro-educator Anna Dawson said. "Even though it says 'don't throw it in your rubbish bin' that is where they mostly end up."

Batteries are accepted for recycling at the centre along with toothbrushes and metal toothpaste tubes. Robson is most passionate about the bins full of old batteries.

"People give a donation to help batteries get recycled but they're very, very polluting in every way and people normally throw them in the tip, she said. "Then they go into our landfill and get in our ground water, then it's there forever."

Cushela Robson shows off one of the Prison Bags made from recycled material. Photo / Georgie Ormond
Cushela Robson shows off one of the Prison Bags made from recycled material. Photo / Georgie Ormond

There's also an education centre funded by the council through the waste minimisation fund, a tax taken from each load at the dump. It's just received another three years' funding and is tasked with spreading the sustainability message to the next generation.

"We're teaching the next generation so they are going home and teaching their parents and their teachers," Ron Fisher, an Enviro-educator said.

"Young people can come and explore the materials from the Reuse Academy, so they can use recycled materials to create, and we're basing this around basic engineering principles, so we're getting them to think creatively, more like an engineer. I guess that's some of the skills we think we need to instil for the future."

Enviro-educators Anna Dawson and Ron Fisher. Photo / Georgie Ormond.
Enviro-educators Anna Dawson and Ron Fisher. Photo / Georgie Ormond.

The centre also runs courses for adults, busting myths and helping people navigate the complex dos and don'ts of recycling.

Dawson said there are many misconceptions, a big one being green waste being sent to landfill.

"In actual fact it's one of the worst things," Dawson said. "Which is why we have a big focus on worm farming, it's a fun way to compost."

Fisher got the last word.

"There's a great quote about waste," he said. "We don't need a few people doing zero waste perfectly, we need millions of people doing it imperfectly."

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