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Securing sustainability for Tairawhiti

In the heart of one of Gisborne’s industrial zones lies an oasis of lush vegetable gardens, fruit trees and even a beehive.

At the site of a former upholstery warehouse on Palmerston Road, a team of hardy volunteers has spent the past year transforming a section of weeds and rubble into Tairawhiti Environment Centre’s Village Education Garden, complete with raised garden beds, a spiral herb tower, composting bins and a worm farm.

Inside the building, a previously-bare warehouse space is now home to the vibrant Rethink Centre, where school children — and adults — can learn about how to reduce waste and live more sustainably.

In the front of the building is an information centre, specialised recycling services, and an eco-shop, where people can purchase everything from bamboo toothbrushes to re-usable produce bags.

The 386 Palmerston Road site is home to the new Tairawhiti Environment Centre (TEC), which also houses Gisborne District Council’s Rethink Centre for waste minimisation.

While it has been in partial use for the past year, running various workshops and school sessions, the finishing touches have been applied and it was officially blessed this month with a tree planting.

TEC has its roots in 1990, when a group of like-minded people formed Earth Centre, which became an incorporated society in November that year known as Gisborne Environmental Centre, before changing to Tairawhiti Environment Centre.

TEC has moved around several locations, and occupied the previous spot at 56 Ballance Street, for three-and-a-half years.

The Palmerston Road location backs on to the Department of Conservation and Nga Whenua Rahui offices, where TEC committee secretary Charles Barrie also works as community engagement supervisor.

Supporting the community“Both DoC and TEC have aspirations of supporting the community to further connect with te taiao (the environment),” Charles said.

“The central location allows for all sorts of collaborations between TEC, DoC, the council and other environmental groups.

“There is potential for future education programmes, workshops and outreach programmes — this is just the beginning."

A focus of the centre is to encourage more environmental volunteers in Tairawhiti.

Each Thursday between 10am and 1pm volunteers are welcome to come along to the Village Education Garden, to learn gardening skills or to pass on knowledge to others.

“The Village Education Garden is a living environment, and we are open to new ideas,” Charles said.

One new idea is to promote more urban composting.

“There are some great schemes around the country, including in Christchurch where people collect food waste from around the city on electric bikes.

“There is potential to develop something like that here.”

Already they take coffee grounds from The Bean Genie coffee shop on Leith Street for composting.

TEC project manager Theresa Zame said one of the new programmes they would be running was a garden to table initiative.

Growing foodThis is based on the national programme, which teaches school-age children about how to grow fruit and vegetables, harvest them, how to cook and prepare meals with them, and then compost the leftover material — and use the worm farm.

“This garden is an ideal place; we can do all of that on site,” Theresa said.

“We are hoping to start in March next year. It will be a holiday programme, after-school programme, and also a showcase for school groups.”

GDC waste minimisation officer Anne Lister is in charge of the Rethink Centre.

The original centre was established at Innes Street in 2004 to engage the community on issues around waste.

The move to the Palmerston Road facility was to make the centre more accessible and to increase collaboration with other environmental groups.

“It is really good to have a collaborative space and we are delighted to be working together with TEC and DoC,” Anne said.

“We see the building as becoming a bit of a hub for all Tairawhiti environment groups, for example Plastic Bag Tairawhiti could use it for their cloth bag-making workshops. It is a nice central location — a one-drop spot.”

In the Rethink Centre are a range of models and information boards to inform about the impacts of waste, and how to reduce, reuse and recycle.

Models show the different types of glass and plastics, and how they are recycled.

An interactive machine demonstrates how much energy it takes to power a light-bulb, and there is even an interactive landfill complete with over-sized rats.

Anne has taken 40 school groups through the centre this year

“It is all designed to teach about waste, but in a fun but informative way,” Anne said.

RecyclablesIn terms of further reducing Gisborne’s waste, the centre offers recycling for items that are not recyclable through the council’s collection system.

These include coffee machine pods, Colgate products, household batteries, compact fluorescent light bulbs, mobile phones, and electronic waste (for a fee).

Much of the recycling is through product-specific schemes, while the electronic items are sent to the South Waikato Achievement Centre, which strips them for recycling and repairs if possible.

“Gisborne has long wanted a place people can recycle things that are not possible through the kerbside system,” Anne said.

“As the council does not own the waste transfer facility we can’t incorporate those systems there, so it is great working with TEC to be able to provide that service.”

During the blessing ceremony Mayor Meng Foon noted how the city’s waste management had changed, and the role the Rethink Centre had played.

“I remember when there was no recycling and much more waste was going to landfill.

“Now we have recycling, composting and have reduced landfill waste greatly. This is a wonderful centre to further that important work.

“I congratulate the centre on the good work it has done in encouraging people to be conscious about what they buy and consume, and think about packaging and how it is all disposed of.”

The community response had led to initiatives like supermarkets phasing out single-use plastic carry bags, he said.

“It really comes down to consumers driving change. If we choose not to buy those things then businesses respond.

“Our community has done well, but let’s continue to do better.”


• Coffee machine pods, household batteries, compact fluorescent light bulbs, mobile phones, Colgate products and more.

• Computer and electronic recycling for a fee, from $2 for small computer items up to $20 for an old CRT television.

• Hours Monday - Friday 9am-3pm, Saturday 11am-1pm.

• Note recycling facilities are inside. Do not leave items outside the building.


COLLABORATION: Tairawhiti Environment Centre project manager Theresa Zame (left) sits with Gisborne District Council waste minimisation officer Anne Lister in the Village Education Garden of the new premises on Palmerston Road. The centre also houses the Rethink Centre and backs on to the Department of Conservation and Nga Whenua Rahui offices, opening the way for all kinds of collaborative environmental projects. Pictures by Liam Clayton
E-WASTE: It is now possible to drop off electronic products at Tairawhiti Environment Centre for recycling, for a fee. Gisborne District Council waste minimisation officer Anne Lister (left) and TEC project manager Theresa Zame with examples of what can be recycled.
RECYCLING: Tairawhiti Environment Centre has a range of new recycling services for coffee machine pods, household batteries, compact fluorescent light bulbs, mobile phones, Colgate products and more.