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Environmental knowledge is power

 
Think globally, act locally with less rubbish and follow the "nude, not rude" movement!
Updated: 28/07/2014 4:07 p.m.
Image of children at wastewater wetlands.

​Checking out the wastewater wetlands.

​Thinking globally, acting locally

Pipes and treatment plants, landfills and recycling bins - they are all part of keeping an environment clean and healthy, but talking to people is a key component, according to Waste and Drainage Manager Andrew Carvell.

As well as running a busy department that builds and manages the stormwater and waste water systems, Hikurangi Swamp scheme and rubbish collection, Andrew and his team work with people who go out into the community to talk about ways to look after the environment.

“When people find out how all our water, wastewater, storm water and rubbish programmes work and get a peek behind the scenes they can see how we are just one part of the picture.  We are all working together, the community and Council, to keep the District healthy. Getting that message across means we can work collectively and create better result.” 

Mr Carvell said a lot of the work begins in the class rooms or in weekend workshops.

“Working with other organisations that have roles to play and specific interests in water quality provides lots of opportunities for us to look at the big picture of conservation and environment management,” he said.

“We also have contracts with organisations that run programmes in schools and in the community during the weekends and holidays, creating awareness and developing skills in young people and the wider community,” Mr Carvell said.

Less rubbish

The EcoSolutions team has been working with Council and the community for more than 10 years to teach people how to reduce, re-use and recycle waste, and how to use resources sustainably. It gets the message across through waste audits, ‘Nude Food Lunches’, e-waste art, the Unpackit Awards, mini worm farm production, paper making, a recycling relay and beach clean ups.

“As well as running weekend composting and worm farm workshops with the general public, the team promotes national events like Recycling Week and the E-Waste collection and spreads the message through  the Green Light column EcoSolutions writes for the Northern Advocate.

The team also does waste audits for the business sector to help them find ways to reduce the waste they produce (and have to pay to be collected).

“Community events are also a good place to spread the message, and the team works with event organisers to reduce waste at local events. Council’s own Venues and Events team has taken this message on board, supplying 39 recycling bins at its Christmas in the Park event and 22 recycling bins and organic scrap bins for all vendors at this year’s Fritter Festival. They also had volunteers manning bin stations to encourage high levels of recycling.” 

“EcoSolutions also gives 250 lessons and 60 hours of support to schools every year, including all age ranges, and Kura Kaupapa, and children being home schooled. Behind the scenes the team also takes calls from people ringing Council to ask for recycling and environmental information.”

Mr Carvell said this year EcoSolutions is planning to create a big buzz during Recycling Week (November 10-16) with a series of events including the Big Nude Food Lunch-Off, a competition for businesses and schools.

Nude, not rude!

The Nude Food movement encourages individuals to make their lunch a healthy, nutritious and environmentally friendly meal by filling it with fresh food and eliminating all unnecessary wrapping!

Fresh water to wastewater

“Nothing can live without water, and one of our big jobs as a Council is to collect, process and supply fresh water to people.  It’s also our job to deal with it once it has been used – to have systems to collect wastewater, process it and dispose of it, and we must do that in a way that protects the environment and keeps people healthy,” Mr Carvell said.

“These are major issues for the community, so EcoSolutions package all these different factors up into the Know Water Education Programme (KWEP) for school students. Last year 1374 students and 51 teachers took part in the programme, 510 students and 85 adults visited our treatment plants.

“After visiting  the Whau Valley dam, waste water treatment plant and wetlands students discuss global water quantity and quality issues. They find out about Whangarei’s water infrastructure from the moment water is taken raw from a reservoir, stream, spring or bore,  how it is used and what happens to it before it is released back into the environment as treated wastewater. They look at how their own schools use water, learn about water meters, stormwater drains, taps and cisterns and visible pipes and spouting.

“They also learnt how to collect water, record how it is used, read water meters, check for leaks and drips, and how to check for pollution in storm water drains.  They come up with ways their own families and schools can reduce water use or address waste water issues.”

“This is all good because it brings responsibilities back into the home, the school and the community, and helps us all to work jointly.”

Drains to Harbour

Mr Carvell said he was surprised in 2006 to find that only 35% of adults surveyed in the Whangarei community realised stormwater drains, untreated, directly into waterways. Everyone else wasn’t sure or thought it got treated or went to the treatment plant. 

“This is the water that falls out of the sky, onto the ground and drains through streams or pipes into the sea, taking with it everything that has washed off the land, and depositing it into waterways.

“Since 2006 the Mountains to Sea Conservation trust (MTSCT) has delivered the Drains to Harbour programme to 80% of Whangarei District Schools.  If you have seen a spray painted “drains to the harbour” message in a drain or if you have seen a plaque with that message, it was put there by someone who has been part of this programme.”

Mr Carvell said 6749 students, 175 teachers, 1012 parents and wider community members since the programme began.

“All Schools in the District now have permanent “drains to the harbour” plaques at their stormwater catchpit drains, 554 stormwater catchpit drains have been labelled by local students with the DTH message and 6954 riparian plants planted next to waterways and drains in Whangarei.”

The programme includes a classroom introduction to stormwater and wastewater pollution sources and effects, a field trip to a local waterway to investigate stream life and water quality, the opportunity of a field trip to the Whangarei Wastewater Treatment Plant, the opportunity to use stencils to spray-paint drains to the harbour messages near stormwater drains in their surrounding community and the chance to take part in riparian planting projects or to lead their own action project.

“This work out in the community helps people to know the thinking and practical realities behind the way we do things, and all the things we take into account.  When something just comes out of a tap or down a pipe or into a drain, or gets picked up once a week it is easy to accept it without realising all the systems that are in place and the best ways to use them.  Education programmes join those dots and get us all working together.”

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