Towards zero-waste: Howe it’s done


Don Batson and Sophie Liu’s dream holiday on Lord Howe Island included a tour of the waste management facility—that’s a ReNew kind of holiday! They describe the amazing work done to reduce waste on this pristine island.

WHEN you live on a crescent-shaped island 11 km long and only 2 km across at its widest, you need to be mindful about limited resources—and as we found out, that can lead to innovative sustainable solutions for all sorts of things, including how you think about and manage waste.

Recently we were lucky enough to have a holiday on Lord Howe Island, a tiny speck in
the Pacific, 600 km east of Port Macquarie, with a population of 360 plus a maximum
of 400 tourists at one time. It’s an island with UNESCO world heritage status and we
were drawn there to experience this pristine environment with its unique plants and
animals. The last thing we expected to be excited about was the waste management
setup! Yet somehow, on our third day there, we found ourselves having a three-hour tour
with John, the manager of the island’s waste management facility.

From speaking with locals, we got the sense that a life cycle assessment of everything
brought onto the island happened almost unconsciously, by necessity. The high cost of
bringing in a product and shipping out any waste requires a less ‘disposable’ approach to purchasing. For example, to bring a new car onto the island, you must first arrange to have the old car removed.

The island also has a wonderful food cooperative— a great community and social
enterprise. It offers bulk foods for sale in recycled and reusable containers, so there’s less packaging to be disposed of. This was ‘zero-waste’ heaven, with all sorts of nuts, dried fruit, grains, flours, cereals and even spices sold in bulk. They also had dairy items bought in bulk then portioned up for sale, homemade dips and locally made cakes and biscuits. We were in awe of the simple, effective system set up so customers can return empty jars and containers, which are then washed and reused. As visitors, we were actively encouraged to participate.

Our curiosity about the recycling systems began at our accommodation. The kitchen had
three bins: one for non-recyclable rubbish, one for recyclables such as glass, cardboard and plastics, and a small bin for food waste (with pictures noting that meat scraps and fish bones could be added). Intrigued, we asked one of the staff there about the food waste: did they compost all this on site? Melissa explained that it went off for processing at the waste management facility on the island. And, she added, if we were interested we could get in touch with the manager, John, and perhaps arrange to see it.

Read about their tour in ReNew 138.

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