Rubble and rubbish: spending time in post-quake Kaikōura

I visited Kaikoura over the weekend – basically to see how the community was coping with all the rubbish and rubble created by last week’s 7.8 magnitude earthquake, and to see my brother Rob.

I may have mentioned before that Rob is the general manager for Innovative Waste Kaikoura (IWK), the community owned company that deals with the area’s recycling, food waste and organic waste, and operates the old and not-very-flash landfill for the town – so this was also a chance to offer moral support and make sure he was ok.

Rob and Denise in Kaikoura
Rob and Denise in Kaikoura

For many years Kaikōura has been the leader in all of New Zealand’s communities for waste diversion – with about 75 percent of all the waste in the region being diverted from landfill. Rob explained that the first big waste worry from the earthquake was rotting food waste as the damage to cupboards and loss of electricity meant a lot of dumped food.  I hadn’t realised until this conversation that the diversion of the food and organic matter from landfill that started about 15 years ago in Kaikōura was a way to reduce the amount of leachates (and methane) created from the aging landfill.  So IWK have had to temporarily bury the food waste near the tip head to keep the conditions sanitary but it can be dug up and removed at a later date.

As Kaikōura moves from emergency response to the earthquake to recovery other waste challenges emerge. What to do about demolition waste? Fortunately IWK has the support of others across the country, not least the Community Recycling Network and in particular Rick Thorpe from Raglan’s Xtreme Zero Waste and Paul Evans the CEO of the Waste Management Institute of NZ. Within 48 hours of the earthquake I was copied into an email where they were already discussing what they could do to help.

kaikoura 2
Signs in the tea room at the council building, which doubles as a civil defence centre

Aware of the massive piles of rubbish created from the 2011 Christchurch earthquake and subsequent demolitions, they are keen to help IWK maintain their reputation for waste minimisation. A Give-a-little page was set up within a day and planning has been underway since then on how to deconstruct – rather than demolish – the buildings that are beyond repair as the best method for resource recovery. CRN has also put out a call for volunteers with experience in the industry and is setting up a roster of people who can go and help.

So far about 36 houses in Kaikōura have been condemned and many more require significant rebuilding and strengthening.  There will also be many more in the outlying areas.

Both Innovative Waste and CRN reckon that given that this is a much smaller scale than the Christchurch earthquake a focus on resource recovery is feasible. Much of the recovered material can then be stored and reused later which not only reduces waste and re-uses resources but also connects the past to the future.  This would also set a best practice example for any future natural disasters.

The big issue really is whether the locals can keep control of the clean-up process when Civil Defence overseen by Canterbury may have different priorities than striving for zero waste and may decide to call for tenders.

Keeping control of the recovery was a common theme from many of the locals that I met on the weekend. I caught up with local politicians and the Kaikōura District Council CEO Angela Oosthuizen who talked about the potential for the rebuild to add value to the town and I also met local tradespeople and businesspeople. I had a briefing from one of the senior defence personnel who outlined the basics of a recovery plan and I also caught up with volunteers organising food distribution for the town and outlying areas.

Denise with kaikoura volunteers
IWK’s Lorraine Driver (centre) with other Kaikoura volunteers organising food parcels. By Saturday (6 days in) they’d distributed more than 2000 boxes.

The people of Kaikōura are facing the challenges resulting from the quake with good humour, although the tension is also evident. Drinking water and power is returning to homes but port-a-loos and chemical toilets will be the norm for some time to come. The roads are still blocked off too with the rail lines disrupted by the same slips.  And all the while they are enduring regular aftershocks.

My brother, and many that I spoke to, are buoyed by the goodwill, love and support being sent their way by ordinary New Zealanders.  Keep it up.


About Denise Roche 161 Articles

Green Party MP