Zero waste is a priority for Maori communities in New Zealand

Para Kore workshop
via Facebook/Para Kore -- "Together, we are conducting a waste check. We empty all our rubbish onto a tarpaulin. Then we look at what could have been recycled, composted or reused."

A group called Para Kore has been working since 2009 to spread the message of waste reduction and diversion.

Zero waste is catching on. All around the planet, people are understanding the absurdity of leaving behind a trail of garbage for generations to come. For the Maori people of New Zealand, this realization has taken on an almost spiritual element, as it ties in well with their deep-rooted connection to the Mother Earth – “Papatuanuku,” as they call her.

As a result, many Maori are now working toward implementing zero waste practices in their communities, or “marae.” Much of the impetus for change has come from a group called Para Kore, founded in 2009. Para Kore’s founders had noticed the enormous amount of waste generated by large-scale events, often requiring communities to rent Dumpsters to haul away trash at a huge cost, both to the community and to local landfills.

Para Kore, whose name literally translates as “zero waste,” embarked on a mission to educate and train Maori communities on how to reduce and divert their waste.

One of Para Kore's managers, Richelle Kahui-McConnell, says that Maori communities committed to zero waste "are on a journey from darkness and unknowing to the world of light and knowledge. The ripple effect is taking hold, with [families] taking the message of [environmental protection] from the marae into the home and community."

Today, there are 35 marae that have adopted Para Kore’s practices, which include recycling, bokashi composting, gardening, and purchasing food in bulk to reduce excess packaging. Some of the most successful marae have achieved 75 percent diversion rates. Para Kore estimates that 150 tons of trash have been diverted from landfill to date, and it hopes that every marae in New Zealand to be working toward zero waste by 2020.

One of Para Kore’s YouTube videos describes its unusual and innovative approach to labeling waste bins. After putting stickers on new bins to describe their purpose (i.e. compost, recycling, landfill, paper waste), the ‘waste advisors’ were left with the plastic sticker backing: “That was just the total opposite of what we were supposed to do.” They came up with a better solution – painting the faces of Maori gods, or “atua,” on the bins to communicate where waste should go:

“People would look at the bin in a new light, so that it wouldn’t be just a box to be filled with rubbish, but it would be a vessel that was sacred, that resources could go into.”

Para Kore binYouTube/Screen capture

It’s encouraging to see the marae of New Zealand moving in a direction that’s so ancient, yet highly progressive at the same time. There is great power in numbers, and the more communities adopt zero waste as a whole, the more quickly the practices will become normalized.

Already, the waste reduction scene looks hopeful in New Zealand, as the city of Auckland has also stated its intention to be zero waste (read: send as little waste as possible to landfill) by 2040.

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