Solutions Beyond Sustainability

I believe everyone wants to do the right thing for the environment.

So it’s an awareness/education piece around what is the ‘right thing’ for the environment, why isn’t the right thing happening currently and how to change our habits towards the right thing moving forward. But how do we know what is the ‘right thing’?

A great place to start is the Trajectory of Ecological Design in last weeks blog post, where you can place almost any product or service on a continuum of negative, nuetral or positive impact. However there are some additional frameworks we can use to gauge what is beneficial to working alongside nature, as opposed to against it, and through that discover best practise for whatever purchase, action or behaviour which may or may not be the ‘right thing’ as it were.

The Natural Step use The Funnel to manage complexity and define future positioning. I drew up a funnel mapping the complex issues facing waste here in The Bay of Plenty, with each influence leading us closer to ‘the funnel’ which we will need to pass through in order to move beyond sustainability.

Funnel of Bay of Plenty Waste

Conveniently, the Funnel and the Trajectory of Ecological Design overlap really nicely.
The Funnel being a metaphor for sustainable development as a squeeze and regenerative development being an opening beyond the squeeze.

What I love about this framework is that it enables us to map complexity against the past, present and future drivers of change. Seeing these decreasing and increasing issues being pinched and pushed towards the narrow gates of a perceived future enables us to envision what would make it through, and how it might open up on the other side.

Another excellent resource for managing complex change has been adapted from ‘A framework for thinking about change’ by Knoster T, Villa R and Thousand J. For a slightly different, more clear verison, check it out on The Learning Accelerator

This table helps us identify what is blocking a project to creating change. By identifying what element of the project is missing (vision, skills, incentives, resources, action plan) we are able to conclude with an outcome. It is also possible to reverse engineer the table by identifying the outcome that you are experiencing and trace it back to missing element.

When we were unable to process the organic waste at Revital, the Compost Collection lost a vital resource. Following this framework to the fifth line down (where resources are blacked out) you can see this leads to frustration. When trying to revive the service, I experienced resistance (from myself) due to there being a lack of incentives (fourth line down),

Sustainability as a flawed end goal

A key message in the ‘Beyond Sustainability’ workshops I toured over summer is that ‘Sustainability’ is a short sighted end-goal, existing only as a knife edge between ‘Degeneration’ and ‘Regeneration’. A great way to understand this is through Bill Reed’s Trajectory of Ecological Design

In short, to sustain a flawed system would only perpetuate flawed outcomes. It is essential for future-sound solutions to be designed to a benchmark beyond sustainability.

This framework is good for:
– mapping and describing trends
– auditing behaviour as degenerative or regenerative

Here’s the same framework, spiralling vertically.

Take, Make, Waste describes our linear economy. Conventional and deeply degenerate. Desperately needing to shake the waste industries’ response, which for decades has been to cram societies waste into landfills as cheaply and invisibly as possible. ‘Out of sight, out of mind’ seemed to be the mandate from previous generations. However as awareness and education over the last few decades bear fruit, the obsolescence of the dominant methodology is increasingly revealed. While the lowest hanging fruit has long been harvested by the private sector, governing bodies respond to the more difficult challenges at glacial speeds.

Why Waste was set up to contribute to the shift of our waste industry away from its’ present conventional mode (far left on this framework) and bring it further towards the right. Our initial offering, the Compost Collection, was loved by Bay of Plenty businesses and many were left angry, sad and frustrated when it ended in December last year .

But where would the Why Waste compost collection occupy this framework? It’s a tricky one to gauge; by getting biodegradable waste out of the landfill, we can start in the same kind of ‘Green’ or ‘Eco’ place as recycling would be. Seeing as it then goes on to return that material to the soil via composting – this might push it into a more Restorative place. However if that soil is on a conventional farm or horticulture block using herbicides, pesticides and industrial fertiliser it would degenerate down the spectrum somewhat.

Focusing soley on the outcome doesn’t take into account all impacts and unfortunately the methods for collection do not fare well. The externalised cost of driving around picking up waste for compost is largely invisible. From conflict in the middle east to CO2 emissions in the atmosphere and every social and environmental impact in between, reconciling the impacts of driving vs the benefits of collecting compost would be a stretch. Then again it may not be, due to the methane which compostable material produces when it breaks down anaeronbically (like in landfills) being 23 times worse than the CO2 being exhausted from the van. Metrics such as these can be difficult and expensive to define, and they often miss the point –
Adding and subtracting a few million carbon parts per million in the atmosphere isn’t going to change our linear take, make, waste culture, indeed, it threatens to justify continuing it.

There is a similar effect when considering the social impact on behaviour change. By taking their waste ‘away’, we enable waste producers to continue as usual without needing to address shortfalls in procurement or practice. The idea that cleaning up people/business/societies mess is in some part reinforcing that the culture of waste is acceptable. Further to this, it is to a certain degree ‘supported’ by the same operator (Why Waste) seeking to transform it.

This kind of analysis might conclude that while the action itself reduces waste to landfill, avoids greenhouse gas generation and builds soil, it might have a negative net impact in the long term. However we haven’t yet taken into account the following that we were able to build off the back of all the ‘hard yakka’ and ‘walking the walk’, presenting the bigger picture to a receptive audience over a number of different platforms. Using the compost collection as a vehicle for generating awareness, providing education, and sparking inspiration was an effective way to create a wider scope of impact beyond the realm of waste minimisation.

If the compost collection is analogous to Why Waste being at the bottom of the cliff cleaning up people at the top, then it could be observed that as time went on our voice came to be heard from the top of the cliff, which resulted in other people heralding the same cause. In behaviour change, these people are called ‘early adopters’ and we’ve found it to be a very effective way to identify these individuals and feed them information and opportunities for involvement.

To conclude, the action of the Why Waste compost collection could be considered ‘sustainable’, while the methods used were ‘green’ or ‘eco’ at best. Meanwhile the awareness, education and inspiration that came from that project could be considered remarkably restorative.

Frame taken from Happen Film’s feature length film ‘Living the Change’

A critical enquiry into our services

A reluctant watchdog in the sustainability world, I often wind up calling out businesses/organisations for greenwashing – or ‘eco virtue-signalling’ as I like to call it. It’s a total drag focusing on the negative, which is the wrong way to frame the discussion around change. Plus it takes up heaps of my time which turns out I can’t even bill them for haha.

What I’ve learned however, is that everyone has a different moral compass and that people often believe they’re doing the right thing, even if it doesn’t stand up in someone else’s opinion.

How can I encourage others to act with integrity within the sustainability movement?
My best answer: act with integrity and lead by example. In this case, running a critical enquiry on our services in the hope of revealing any hypocrisy, and potentially crystallising a new direction should the need arise.

In our ‘Leadership for Change’ course (with Otago Polytechnic), we adopt a range of frameworks to simplify complex issues and communicate them in a common language. By mapping Why Wastes main offerings across these frameworks, I’m seeking to see our work as part of a system – a valuable viewpoint when our perception is conditioned by reductionism and separation. Nothing is separate in nature, and the same is true of business, society or any other human organisation. Their very ‘nature’ is an interconnected web of relationships, similar to that of a mature ecosystem. That word nature seems to keep popping up, turns out we’re not separate from that either.

Stay tuned for future blog posts as we dive into a gritty audit/analysis of the true impact of our solutions.

A new residential waste solution in the Bay!

Over a third of what we send to landfill is biodegradable. Organic material. You know, natural stuff that isn’t made in a factory.

Our big push recently has been to help businesses compost this part of their waste stream, and we’ve diverted over 100,000 kilograms of this stuff from landfill since we started our B.O.P. compost collection.

But this service isn’t available to residents, as it is in other parts of the country. So we get asked to collect compost from urban and suburban customers all the time. A beautiful demonstration that with a little bit of help, people are generally keen to do the right thing by the planet.

We feel that a residential collection isn’t the most appropriate solution to address biodegradable waste at home. It’s a bit of a band-aid, contributing to that notion that there’s this ‘away’ place, where things are to be thrown. I propose we use a more appropriate technique than microbial composting for this particular issue – vermi-composting aka worm farming.

Instead of charging residential customers $11 per bin to take their biodegradable waste away (like we do with businesses), I propose to close the loop and provide a service where people can be be part of the solution, processing their waste on site for half of that cost per week.

For $25 a month, Why Waste will supply a fully functioning worm farm which can not only divert a households’ food scraps from landfill but convert it into the best fertiliser there is – for them to use at home or to donate to our community garden partners.

The worm farm hire service would include regular visits by a professional vermicomposting expert, yours truly 🙂

The Hungry Bin is our chosen worm farm, and it’s the best there is. Designed and made here in New Zealand, the Hungry Bin is streets ahead of any other type of worm farm – we know cos we’ve got them all up and running at our Permaculture Paradise in Te Puna.

hungry bin

Hot water compost …Free energy from biological processes.

Two weeks ago we made a hot aerobic compost. But it was no ordinary compost… We wanted to explore whether we could attain heat from purely biological processes – in other words, infinitely sustainable processes.


Jean Pain building a compost heap

In the 1970s, French inventor and innovator Jean Pain designed a system which provided his home with free hot water and combustable energy using the heat and gas generated through the composting process. Using machines and the scrub he cleared from a nearby forest, he made compost heaps so large they provided heat for an entire year.

But could we build one without machinery and zero budget? How much material could we gather? How much water could we heat? Our experiment had to be realistic – how about enough water for someone to take a bath?

Turns out we got enough heat for four people, and we had to add cold water to get in! Even after going through the inefficient garden hose from the compost to the bath tubs, the water came out at 44°C. Damn thats hawt!

Piping hot at 44 degrees Celsius

Piping hot at 44 degrees Celsius


Here’s Leo running us through the setup.

The compost we built was originally about 3 cubic metres, shrinking to about 2 once it peaked. We scored a water drum from the good people at the Te Maunga transfer station and built the pile around it. We layered in the funky food waste from our compost collection with a variation of different materials, all contributing different elemental or structural benefits. These include: Hardwood sawdust, scrub and dead grass, horse manure, cow manure, leaf litter, clay, cardboard, old compost, new compost, fungal compost, lime and paramagnetic rock dust.

The drum set in place as we shovel organic matter around it

The drum set in place as we shovel organic matter around it

Why Waste compost collection hot water experiment

Building the compost around the water drum

There was also a hose running through the compost, but the compost got so large that we lost it 😛

finished compost heap rugged up to keep the heat in

The trick is to catch it at the peak of it’s heat profile. When a compost peaks, the heat inside reaches a high temperature point and drops back off. This signifies a lack of oxygen, which slows down microbial activity. At this point it’s a good idea to turn your compost to aerate it again. Because we were keen for a bath, we pre-empted our composts peak at 65°C in the processes of draining 100 litres of heat out of the compost. Not ideal, but the heat bounced back pretty easily. Worth noting that it is important to never let your compost get to 70°C as this is the point when all your thermophilic bacteria die and precious nitrogen converts into a gas and escapes into the atmosphere.

Jean Pain also captured methane from his compost, does that mean our next experiment can involve fire?


Food Sovereignty – the new narrative for positive change?

Today I want to write about food sovereignty. Almost all of the pressing world issues can be related back to food. I feel it could serve as the narrative which unites the many problems that face not only humanity, but the planet which supports us. The latter consideration might seem a bit idealistic, even altruistic. However any issues which impact the environment will inevitably wind up facing humanity – so if we approach this from a selfish mindset, so be it.

For a long time I used the term ‘food sovereignty’ interchangeably with ‘food security’, wrongly so. Food security was defined at the 1996 World Food Summit to “exist when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life”

While I believe the idea of everyone having access to adequate nutrition is a great start, I feel this definition is inherently one-dimensional. It also reeks of neo-liberal consumerism, paying no heed to the future, let alone the plethora of different issues we face right now of equal or more importance than meeting people’s “food preferences for an active and healthy life”

‘Food sovereignty’ takes a more multidimensional approach to addressing a much larger discussion. It holds that people have the right to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and the right to define their own food and agriculture systems. In essence, food security fits within the linear ‘take-make-waste’ economy, while food sovereignty can be applied to the rapidly emerging alternative – the circular economy.

In pictures, you could say that food security holds that food is this:

Screen Shot 2013-11-14 at 2.57.14 PM


While food sovereignty sees it as this (yup, that’s my backyard):

20140828_152122 (1)

What we eat and the way we eat has so many threads which weave into the socio-economic and environmental fabric of our lives. The story of food reveals so many points in the corporate food system that which expose entire industries which needs redesigning.

The production of food – Transportation – Storage – Wholesaling – Marketing – Retailing – Preparation – Consumption – Disposal of food.

The last of these is no less important to the first and, indeed, is intrinsically linked. The Why Waste compost collection was started because it absolutely had to happen. Before Why Waste, Bay of Plenty businesses had no choice but to send their biodegradable waste to landfill. If you’d like to read about the compost collection, check out our website, however disposal is but one of many crucial threads in the story of our food. The Why Waste project aims to contribute to the wider sociocultural and economic changes we need to make in order to continue to live on this planet.

Stay tuned to hear about the Rock Garden Papamoa, a multi-acre guerrilla garden we’re helping transition into a community hub for knowledge and nutrition. Feel free to like or share this post, hit up Why Waste on Facebook to keep up to date with great news on positive change.

Worm farming & compost workshop at Creative Tauranga

I’ve always had an unnatural attraction to worms, microbes and fungi.

Earthworms are the strong, silent type. They’re that enduring romance which crept up on you from the friendzone to become your soulmate for life. Tiger worms are that hot and firey fling. Hungry and ravenous, devouring everything in their paths and reproducing at the soonest sniff at an overripe avocado. Microbes take the sex analogy to an exponential level, turning your otherwise innocent compost into an orgy of binary fission to a factor in the billions. Fungi is that tantric yogi with the silver ponytail. Stretching itself into the craziest shapes and communicating with the universe through delicate strands of conscious mycelium.


On a more practical level, without earthworms filtering and aerating our soils the earths crust could not support life. Without the microbes in my compost, what I manage to grow at the beach would be impossible and the rubbish bill would be out of control if it weren’t for the tiger worms in my worm bin.

As a waste management tool you can’t get any better than processing your biodegradable waste at home. It might contradict the idea of the Why Waste compost collection, but it’s true. Whether a good old compost heap satisfies all your needs, or you might prefer the more compact-but-less complicated option of a worm farm will. Maybe you eat a lot of meat and need to adopt the Japanese method of Bokashi fermentation, which gets through bones in a matter of days.

On Monday I presented these solutions at Creative Tauranga Charitable Trust to a curious few who braved cyclone Pam to come to the Sustainable Backyards workshop.

We went over1900705_850125711718087_6982964960855500040_o(1) the different types of composting and vermi-composting, fermentation and digestion of biodegradable waste. Speaking from my own discovery of these extremely efficient solutions, I aimed to inspire as opposed to outright educate. Making sure we covered the environmental and economic benefits and pitfalls of each option, I really wanted to present the workshop in respect of the time pressures and financial confines we all live with. Using different worm bins I have as demonstrations, we went over vermicasting options – from the cheap but not ideal worms-r-us stacker bin ($100 without worms from Bunnings) option through to the Rolls Royce of worm farms, the continuous flow Hungry Bin ($320 or $340 with worms through I feel as though attendees took away a sound understanding of composting and worm farming (otherwise known as vermi-composting) and a good idea on how to set these up at home for as cheap as possible.


Thanks to Creative Tauranga for hosting the workshop, and also for supporting creativity in the Bay of Plenty. Creativity and sustainability go hand in hand and I am extremely passionate about both.



Changing the definition of success in the 21st century: Derek Handley

Last Thursday I had the pleasure of seeing Derek Handley speak in the flesh at the Priority 1 event held at ASB arena. For the first time in my life, someone managed to articulate what I say each day, in public, and have the cred to back it up. When I describe it, people try to entertain the thought of a world where people, planet and profit aren’t mutually exclusive. But when a charismatic millionaire like Derek Handley describes it – they can see it.


As a member of his (and old mate Richard Bransons’) positive change project ‘The B Team’, I’ve always associated his work with future thinking groups online, or through various positive change organisations on the Why Waste Facebook news feed. This association somehow never extended to Priority 1. ‘Driving economic growth’ – a tag line which contradicts the multifaceted nature of Dereks message. Though I have to hand it to them, It was a great event and I truly felt that the 300 odd people in the room were genuinely open to his messages.


I would encourage those unfamiliar with Derek Handley to watch this interview at the world economic forum. I especially appreciate it how he begins his narrative within an easily stomachable critique of last century’s interpretation of business success, leading into what success might mean in this century. This allows him to engage the ‘successful’ people of last century without shaming or blaming them with it’s now-obvious shortcomings, and includes them in finding the solution through the common language of business. Indeed, any collaboration or community based solution will require effective communication, and a lack of eco-literate businessmen, or corporate-able activists is what has separated the business community from environmentalists and social advocates in the past.


Image Credit:


This bus in the UK is powered by humanure! …Imagine powering our society from our organic waste stream. Why Waste it when you can use it?


At Why Waste we are helping our contributors divert their biodegradable waste from landfill. This is very important, but it’s only phase one of the solution.


The big plan is to direct the Bay of Plenty’s organic waste stream into a thermophilic digester, which produces not only amazing compost but a source of powerful fuel. This fuel can be used to generate electricity, power vehicles, produce heat – the Bay’s very own source of renewable energy!


The Dry Dock Cafe

Big ups to Roger and Sandy from the The Dry Dock Cafe for diverting 75kgs/120litres of organic waste from the landfill in just one week!


These guys are such a pleasure to work with and their new cafe extension is looking lush! Check them out on Wharf Street in Tauranga