Make the most of waste by the Auckland Council

Churchill Fellowship awarded to council's waste specialist

Published: Friday 13 December 2019

Auckland Council’s Senior Waste Planning Advisor for Construction and Demolition Waste, Mark Roberts, has been awarded a 2019 Winston Churchill Memorial Trust Fellowship and will be travelling to North America to investigate how community-led deconstruction hubs successfully divert construction and demolition waste materials from landfill for beneficial use.

Winston Churchill Fellowships offer an opportunity to New Zealanders from diverse backgrounds to travel overseas to research topics of significance and gain knowledge, experience, and inspiration that will create value for their own careers, the communities they live in, and Aotearoa as a whole.

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Mr Roberts has been working alongside both Kiwi and international organisations such as the Zero Waste Network, Sustainable Business Network, AUT, and C40 cities to find both local and global solutions to the burgeoning issue presented by construction and demolition waste, which accounts for around half of the waste currently being sent to landfill across the Auckland region.

With the funding provided by the fellowship, Mark will visit a network of North American community-led construction, demolition and salvage hubs.  He will also consult with academics, local authorities and state government departments who have been leading the way on minimising construction waste, including the City of Philadelphia, the City of Vancouver, San Francisco Department of the Environment, and the US Environmental Protection Agency.

“It’s important to understand how a deconstruction hub can gain access to raw deconstructed materials, operate at scale, and remain financially viable to help drive a circular economy and keep these valuable resources out of landfill,” says Mark Roberts.

Evidence from the US shows the advantages of deconstruction hubs extend far beyond environmental gains and create wider social and economic benefits.  The US Environmental Protection Agency estimate that for every 10,000 tonnes of waste, 6 jobs are created if it is landfilled, 36 jobs if recycled, and up to 296 jobs if the material is refurbished and re-used.

“If we can replicate the same potential on New Zealand soil, it could be a real game changer for our country,” says Roberts.  “Community hubs can be set up to fill the gap and provide a valuable service where industry has not yet developed solutions.  These hubs can recover, sort, disassemble, reprocess and sell on valuable materials such as timber, fixtures and fittings.

“Deconstruction and salvage hubs also create opportunities for people who may otherwise have difficulty gaining work skills, training and meaningful employment, delivering positive social benefits to communities,” adds Roberts.

Auckland Council is supporting his fellowship by providing him with a leave of absence for the duration of the study tour.  Roberts is planning a carbon neutral trip, looking to offset his carbon footprint through supporting the Sustainable Business Network’s Million Metres riparian tree planting programme.

With the knowledge gained, Mark is hoping to unlock how the deconstruction hub model could be successfully rolled out across the Auckland region and more widely across New Zealand.