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How our first Economate was born

In 2016 construction firm Ladd Joinery had just finished with a project at Onslow College and had offcuts of leftover melamine which were too small to use on other jobs. As much as it saddened him to see it go to landfill David Ladd had another idea. Offer it to the school tech department. From this point on a wonderful union was born in the concept of ‘Economate’. Construction waste could go towards supporting tech projects and reducing the pressure on the budget for material.

Economate became a social enterprise that was the answer to a problem faced by many schools. Budgets for materials were tight and each year money would go toward buying timber for students to use in projects. There was an irony in that projects included one on sustainability, and another on flat packed furniture.

‘Even for a decile ten school our budget was a quarter of other local schools’, admits Katy. ‘With only $12,000 to spend on a resource for hundreds of pupils we had to cover repairs to machinery, new tools, timber, acrylic and consumables like screws, nails and drills pieces. The budget just wasn’t stretching very far.’

Two years later and Economate now boast’s regular providers of waste to Onslow College including Ladd Joinery, Friday Homes, Cactus plastics. But the benefits have extended far beyond these parties. Onslow College now provides nesting boxes, Weta hotels and tracking boxes using these materials to Zealandia produced by year 10 students who then get to help place them in the reserve.

This success then spread to local not-for-profit Predator Free Wellington who used offcut materials to build their tracking and trapping boxes.

Katy sums up how creativity is key. ‘You need to be creative with how you use smaller pieces of material. But simple solutions such as using eco-glue and clamps can turn small pieces into larger boards. It’s about thinking outside of the box and as teachers we should be encouraging creative problem solving.’

Ladd Joinery and Friday Homes now provide regular monthly deliveries to the school after an initial period of determining what could be used and where material could be set aside. Ladd Joinery’s owner David Ladd is delighted to be a part of this scheme which provides him with examples of corporate social responsibility. ‘When I first spoke with Katy I was honestly so pleased that the waste could be used for something positive. It’s disheartening to throw material away but if it’s too small to use in a unit it can’t be avoided. Katy’s students are able to join pieces together or use in small projects and apply some creativity.’

‘I’ve found it very rewarding to see what’s been made and hope this relationship continues for many years. It also saves me money as well since I was sending a skip every couple of months to landfill.’

‘There’s one benefit you can’t put money on though and that is how the students get exposure to my business. It helps them understand career options and helps me to find new apprentices. It’s great that I can introduce young people including Katy to the craft and show them the technology they need to know such as CNC routers.

‘It’s the connection between industry and education that remains at the heart of Economate,’ says Katy, a strong believer in building industry links. ‘We’re going to roll this out to an intermediate in the Hutt Valley next and have a great teacher on board who is excited by the creative challenges of working with waste. We get asked what about treated timber? We clarify with the construction company what waste we can use and don’t tend to take H4 for outdoor use. We use H1.2 but stress the importance of healthy and safe handling to students to mitigate any perceived risk.

Economate works on a subscription base to help match schools with local companies. Companies are able to demonstrate their support for their local community and their conscious waste management through use of the Economate seal of approval.

Economate now in it’s third year won the Akina foundation prize at Climathon 2017. The outcomes made from waste, and talks on the concept, have been presented at Pacific Climate Change Conference in Wellington, United Nations Sustainable Goals Conference, Falling Walls Lab with the Royal Society, Expressions Art Gallery Upper Hutt and at National Institute of Dramatic Arts (NIDA) in Sydney Australia.

If your business or school thinks it could benefit from becoming an Economate then get in touch. Everyone wins when they become Economates – and that includes the environment as less useful pre-consumer waste sits in our hillside landfills, instead becoming a bench to sit upon. Now that’s winning in a circular economy!