In 2011, New Zealanders sent more than two million tonnes of waste to landfill as stated on the Ministry for the Environment’s website. And that number is increasing.
It says “The amount of packaging consumed by each New Zealander is growing. Reasons for this include design and marketing, safety/food standards, demographics and lifestyle.”
An island of plastic waste, expanding 2.5 million sqkm, has been discovered in the South Pacific, much of that waste is believed to have come from New Zealand.
Ecoware co-founders James Calver and Alex Magaraggia realised a long time ago the extent of New Zealand’s waste problem. But unlike most who would just sit back and wait for something to change the two friends decided to act upon it.
Ecoware came to life six years ago.
It is a brand of food and beverage packaging created without the use of fossil fuels and is New Zealand’s first carboNZero packaging company.
While studying a marketing and management degree at Auckland University, James got a job placement doing event management; one of the events he undertook was the Weet-Bix Kids TRYathlon.
Included in the job description was organising the waste disposal. Earlier this year nearly 29,000 children took part in the TRYathlon; with every child comes supporters and a lot of people create a lot of waste.
Upon seeing this, James locked heads with best mate Alex over a beer and began to devise a plan.
When they first entered the market, the public’s awareness around waste wasn’t what it is today, so education was key.
Now people are beginning to realise the issues surrounding waste, with the all the talk about climate change, but James believes New Zealanders still have a lot to learn.
“People are aware of the problem, but I don’t think they are fully aware of the magnitude.
“Pretty much every piece of plastic created still exists. The word ‘recycling’ sounds nice, but you’re ultimately just reusing fossil fuel plastic.” James questions how it will ever disappear.
Ecoware products are made entirely from rapidly replenishing plant materials and unlike fossil fuels, the materials they use are not one of the world’s most scarce resources and they don’t cause serious emission problems.
James and Alex know this because they are involved every step of the way with their products – from sourcing materials, to manufacture, right through to composting.
Every step their business takes is a giant leap towards a true, clean and green New Zealand.
Their recent partnership with the Christchurch City Council is exactly the sort of thing they have been striving for since day one.
Starting Ecoware as a couple of guys in their mid-20s trying to convince all the top dogs that there is a waste problem in New Zealand and that they have the solution was no easy task.
“You’ve got these two young guys coming in trying to change the world – we spent the first few years just educating people,” James explains.
“Persistence beats resistance. We were up against multinationals and we were this foreign object that people didn’t take seriously.”
After getting a couple of people on board they were able to prove to others that they weren’t ‘all talk’. And now they are proud to have the backing of a major city council – and rightly so.
“Councils need to lead by example and Christchurch is doing that, because if they’re not doing it, then why should all the little food vendors and cafés do it?”
The Christchurch City Council has made a bold decision and James says hopefully after seeing the positive results, other councils will follow suit.
The trial took place earlier this year and has proven to be hugely successful. With the use of Ecoware products across three of Christchurch’s major events they have managed to divert 12 tonnes of waste from landfill.
The council is now looking into phase two of the trial which will see them using compostable packaging at 30 events over the next 18 months.
James says it’s more than just diverting waste from landfill – when people see their local council taking on this sort of initiative it’s only a matter of time before the community starts to get on board and change within individual households is encouraged.
Survey results taken at the events have shown the flow-on effect is already taking shape.
Walking the talk
France has declared it will ban all single-use plastics by 2020. Australia has increased their landfill levy rates significantly in an attempt to deter people from mindless dumping. New Zealand needs to step up if it is to remain the ‘clean green’ nation it claims to be.
The Ministry for the Environment’s 2008 survey showed that around three quarters of the waste disposed of in landfills could have been diverted.
“New Zealand as a country is so far behind the majority of the rest of the world,” James says. “We are only clean green New Zealand because we are too small to make a mess.”
The problem is, it is far too easy and far too cheap to just dump everything all together.
Before the trial with the Christchurch City Council, commercial composting facilities couldn’t accept food packaging waste due to the risk of contaminating their high-grade organic certified compost.
James and Alex, alongside the council, worked tirelessly to create a product that could not only be composted at these facilities, but could withstand the different foods these events had to offer.
Their Kraft tableware range was the product for the job and lived up to their expectations.
Already on the right path, the duo refuses to stop here. While creating products from plant materials is far more superior to using fossil fuels, Alex and James still want to do one better.
“At the moment we are turning plants to plastics, but in about three or four years’ time, we are hoping to catch methane or greenhouse gas emissions from the atmosphere and turn that into polymers, so we are creating a carbon positive product.”
They have a pilot factory already on the task.
“It was one thing for us to produce and sell environmentally-friendly products, but we wanted to take that one step further and actually prove that we do care.”
They have even decided to invest some of their proceeds towards different environmental causes.
“About 10 percent of our profits last FY went into forest restoration programs and end of life education; we want to be more than just a packaging company.”
In six years this dynamic duo has made themselves known in more ways than one.
Having only just reached their 30s they’ve still got plenty of time on their hands and plenty of tricks up their sleeves to shape New Zealand’s clean green image.
The day James can go surfing without paddling through waves of plastic will be the day he knows they’re truly making a difference.
“There’s nothing stopping us from eventually making fossil fuel plastics completely redundant.”
By Natalia Rietveld