It's often said that one person's trash is another person's treasure. And Tara Moala, the main brain behind waste-minimisation social enterprise Hub Zero, takes that saying very literally.

Hub Zero's office is almost entirely furnished with things other people have thrown away.

There are discarded office chairs, and furniture made out of old pallets. A pinboard for planning meetings is crafted from a former office desk divider. The table in its meeting room is made out of two recycled doors. On the floor, fabric offcuts are being sewn up and converted into beanbags. Even the cups in the kitchen are shared with another organisation.

For Tara Moala, the coordinator at Hub Zero, this base in a converted warehouse behind a Panmure car yard is a glimpse of a possible future. Her mission is to see as many people as possible involved in redirecting so-called junk away from rubbish bins and landfills and making it useful again in places like her office. It's a process colloquially called 'upcycling'.

Moala says they want people to think about what they can do to divert waste away from landfill by reusing, repairing and upcycling items, rather than throwing away what they don’t want. Reusing, repairing, repurposing, or upcycling goods helps to extend the life of items and maximise the value of the materials used.

Hosting social enterprises

Hub Zero is devoted to diverting recyclable, useful goods and materials away from landfill. Its aim is to build up other waste-based social enterprises, and it offers space and instruction for people who want to reverse the direction of the traditional recycling process.

The hub currents hosts to permanent tenants - the Chinese Conservation Environmental Trust and the Multi Educational Support Services Trust - but it also welcomes community groups and locals working toward waste minimisations.

Its newest tenant is Team Eco Repair, a group of eight tech graduates who plan to fix people's broken iPhones so they don't throw them away. Other 'seedling tenants' include Brooke McCarthy, a Panmure mum who finds potential in discarded tyres, and Sorcha Conran, who is passionate about creating high-quality products from waste.

Those who can't invest the time into being a tenant can still come along to a range of community events, from sewing bees to a workshop on how to use power tools.

The scale of the challenge facing Hub Zero is huge. The materials it is upcycling represent only a tiny percentage of the waste being diverted to landfills in Panmure alone.

Moala says there needs to be a network of organisations across Auckland devoted to upcycling goods. She's starting to see part of that vision fulfilled, with shops for recycled materials being set up at transfer stations across the city, but more needs to be done.

"It's definitely a growth area. It's already huge in other countries. There are malls overseas where all the shops have upcycled products.

"We could do that here, so you could go and every single thing you buy is upcycled."

Government intervention

But even if upcycling goes mainstream, it won't be enough on its own to truly turn back the tide of waste being shuttled to landfills, Moala says.

She wants more government intervention to help deter the production of waste in the first place.

"We need actual law to get behind us. It's going to be illegal to give out plastic bags soon. We need a structural change like that. Penalties for people who produce unnecessary waste."

Moala has always been passionate about minimising waste, but it was after she had children that she decided to devote a big chunk of her life to the cause. For her, it's about giving them a decent world to inherit, and gifting them the same opportunities that older generations have enjoyed.

"If we keep screwing over our Earth, our kids are literally not going to have an Earth to use."

Hub Zero is supported by the Tamaki Wrap Charitable Trust and Rakau Tautoko and has been funded by Auckland Council through Maungakiekie-Tamaki Local Board and the Waste Minimisation and Innovation Fund.

This story first appeared in OurAuckland April 2019, written by Hayden Donnell.

Apply for the Waste Minimisation and Innovation Fund

Have you been planning a waste minimisation project here in Auckland and could use some support to help make it a reality?

Applications are open 1-30 April for Auckland Council’s Waste Minimisation and Innovation Fund (WMIF). Businesses, iwi, and education and community groups can apply for up to $5,000 towards their project.

Submit your application at aucklandcouncil.govt.nz/wastefund