Whakapapa to Ranginui and Papatūānuku, and values of kaitiakitanga, have inspired over 218,500 people from 179 marae and 181 organisations, such as kōhanga reo, schools and community organisations, to join the Para Kore movement and work towards zero waste.

Together, over the last ten years, they have stopped over 294 tonnes of rubbish going to a landfill.

In the process all the people who have taken part in Para Kore wānanga, have taken the values, information, behaviour and skills back to their own communities, back to their whānau: more knowledge gained; more waste diverted.

Para Kore (which means zero waste) had its beginnings over ten years ago when, in late 2008 Gannin Ormsby from Waikato Regional Council arranged a series of meetings with Māori working in the waste industry to discuss waste minimisation and resource recovery on marae in the Waikato region. The Raglan organisation Xtreme Waste was a part of these hui and they were asked to apply to the Sustainable Management Fund to get the marae recycling project underway. A year later, in 2010, Para Kore Marae Incorporated was registered.

Jacqui Forbes worked for Xtreme Waste in Raglan for 11 years and for six of those years she worked part-time for Para Kore. Since 2016 Jacqui has been working full-time as General Manager of Para Kore. Their vision is: Riro Taonga Mai, Hoki Taonga Atu – we receive taonga from Papatūānuku, we reciprocate and return taonga to her. Their mission: that all marae will be working towards zero waste by 2025.

“Para Kore is a waste minimisation education programme delivered from a Māori perspective. The Para Kore programme is delivered to marae and Māori organisations and non-Māori organisations too. We respond to all invitations.

“Basically we are working to make principles of reducing waste the social norm within Māori communities. We know that 75 percent of waste is either recyclable or compostable. Our target is 50 percent.

“We have five national employees, 17 regional advisors and five part-time contractors – about 27 in total.

“The first step is a presentation about the programme and if the group is interested they sign up to a relationship agreement which outlines what we commit to and what they are committing to. We know that pledging is one of the main success factors for behaviour change.

“When they sign up they also agree to provide data on their waste and recycling as well as invite us back for wānanga on how to reduce waste.

“After that we set them up with recycling bins, and if they are going to use them, with compost bins and worm farms. We give them signage, and explain as necessary what is and isn’t recyclable and how to recycle.

“We teach everyone that in the natural world everything is part of an endless cycle. Everything that we use and then throw away into the recycling bin, comes from the natural world – from five natural resources or elements: plastic is made from oil, steel from iron ore, glass from silica sand, aluminium from bauxite and cardboard and paper from trees. We talk about our creation story and how we are related to the natural world. We don’t stand above it. We are not here to dominate. The Māori world view is that – I am the mountain and the mountain is me, I am the river and the river is me, I am you and you are me. We are all interconnected and because our rubbish is made from natural and mostly non-renewable resources it’s precious.

“People love how we use tikanga and te reo Māori to think about resource extraction and disposal and how it impacts our natural world. The feedback we get is that when they understand why it is important, they become motivated. They can’t unlearn what they have learned. They take it with them into their daily lives.

“The wānanga can take up to a full day, or if they are scheduled into a meeting, and they will be much shorter.

“But while recycling is important, what excites us at Para Kore is eliminating waste and eliminating recycling in the first place. Any system that generates solid waste destined for landfill we see as a faulty, poorly designed system. We encourage a closed loop system where no waste is generated in the first place.

“Not using single use plastic like glad wrap is a good start: using a table cloth, a plate over a bowl, or bowls with lids to cover food are alternatives.

“Some marae, when they see the type of plastic waste they are dealing will ban certain items like plastic drink bottles. Plastic never breaks down. It can’t be absorbed by Papatūānuku or Tangaroa. It is never absorbed, it just breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces.

“Energy and focus must be aimed at all parts of the waste hierarchy at this stage (reduce, reuse, recycle and compost) until the focus eventually shifts predominantly to the top of the cliff, where waste is designed out of the system so there is nothing at the bottom of the cliff to deal with.

“As an organisations we write submissions and are part of raising awareness campaigns, telling people – you can make a difference – everyone has the power to change the world, each day we spend money we are voting for the world we want.

“We encourage people to make choices: buy local; buy unpackaged food; and make phone calls to local businesses and companies about their waste generation or packaging choices. This can make a difference. We have seen companies change packaging as a result of customer feedback. People often underestimate the power that a phone call can make to companies and to council staff: Council staff and councillors do listen. I learned that at Xtreme Waste. In my experience people can have a massive impact by making a phone call.

“Right now we are reviewing our strategic plan. Our aim is that at least half of our income will be self-generated through providing waste minimisation consultancy to the corporate world.

“As a human being, whatever story you subscribe to, they all take us back to the natural world, we didn’t come from Mars or Jupiter. Planet Earth is our home, where we belong, and all the species on this planet are a part of our family. As a species we need to grow up and start behaving with respect towards our family.

“Gardening aligns perfectly with Para Kore, we encourage gardening as a means to reduce packaging and reliance on industrialised food systems.”