Xtreme co-founder to help steer nationwide push to re-use waste

Waste management guru Rick Thorpe reckons after 22 years in the industry he’s got “enough brain cells” in his history to warrant his appointment this month to a new national group leading the charge in recycling waste.

“It’s a good thing for me to do,” Rick told the Chronicle ahead of the first virtual meeting last week of the six industry leaders who make up the WasteMINZ recycling & resource recovery steering committee.

While it’s not a paid position, it’s a cause long dear to Rick’s heart: he’s been advocating for zero waste in Raglan since before the year 2000, when the landfill site up Te Hutewai Rd closed down to be replaced by the refuse transfer station. 

Back then he and partner Liz Stanway were the co-founders of Xtreme Waste, the very successful local initiative which later expanded its name to Xtreme Zero Waste to signify the push to reduce the last 20 percent of landfill rubbish to zilch.

Liz – Xtreme’s food waste/compost guru – has actually had a voice on WasteMINZ’s organic sector group for the past two years. Now she’s been joined on the national organisation by Rick, who got the nod for the newly formed recycling & resource recovery sector group from 22 nominations.

Through the steering committee Rick says he can look forward to having real input into WasteMINZ’s wider approach to recycling as it works collaboratively with councils and corporates on new legislation coming through.

The non-profit organisation – formed back in 1989 – does high quality work, he insists. 

It’s the authoritative voice on waste, resource recovery and contaminated land in New Zealand, sharing information from the sector groups Liz and Rick represent to provide all players like councils with “a feel for what’s happening nationally”. 

Councils can then act with the assurance of WasteMINZ’s directives behind them, both in terms of technology and research. “There’s benefits for everyone.”

Product stewardship is a case in point, Rick explains. In the very near future the TVs or tyres we buy, for instance, will include an up-front cost to cover the products’ free return to the likes of Xtreme further down the line.

This in turn provides incentives for companies to produce or import environmentally friendly products which can then be ethically recycled, he adds – “an acknowledgement of our consumer society”.

Rick’s had various roles at Xtreme over the years – including as operations manager and director – but is currently a board member,  trustee and innovations manager. As such he’s proud the local community enterprise has been able to lead the way in sustainability, one of its latest innovations being the kerbside rubbish bag which is now made from discarded Raglan plastic rather than virgin plastic.

Also on the cards is a community-owned solar farm.

Rick agrees he’d like one day to be able to retreat a little from his environmental work, spending more time fishing in the harbour and farming their lifestyle block on Raglan’s outskirts. 

But that’s for later, safe in the knowledge that Xtreme – along with Whāingaroa Harbour Care and “all the volunteers in our amazing community” – has effectively recovered the land and the fishery that two decades ago was widely contaminated by the leachate which seeped from the town’s rubbish dump.