PCO Wayne Turner with the collection of worm farm bins at Rimutaka Prison.Reducing waste and introducing a recycling scheme at Rimutaka Prison has earned the prison a place in the finals of the 2017 Green Ribbon Awards. The awards recognise outstanding contributions that protect and enhance New Zealand's environment.

Rimutaka’s entry is in the Minimising our Waste category for the prison’s Waste Reduction & Recycling Project.

“We’re delighted to be selected as finalists,” says Assistant Prison Director Kym Grierson.

Prisoners sorting rubbish at Rimutaka Prison's recycling centre.“We developed the Waste Reduction and Recycling Project following a waste audit by the Sustainability Trust. We wanted to reduce waste and our waste bill, engage prisoners in on-site employment, lessen our environmental impact and be a good neighbour to the Upper Hutt community.

“The prison is a large site geographically, with around 1,000 prisoners plus several hundred staff and visitors on site at any time – so it’s fair to say the site was going to need more than a few recycling bins.”

The prison now has several hundred recycling bins, along with 50 compost bins built by prisoners, and 60 worm farms.  Each of the prison’s 27 accommodation units has its own worm farm as a way of involving, educating, and motivating staff and prisoners.   Each unit also has 3 x 240 litre wheelie bins that are colour-coded according to the recycling stream: paper/cardboard; food waste and other waste.

The prison’s purpose-built recycling and sorting facility is the hub of the operation: it’s here where the bins are emptied and sorted, and where food waste is composted.

As much as possible is recycled or repurposed: vermicasting of worm farms and compost operations are used to enhance the soil in individual prison units’ garden. Vegetables that are grown in these gardens are donated to local food banks.

A large proportion of shredded paper and cardboard is turned into paper ‘fire’ bricks that are donated to local charities. Shredded paper is also added to the compost bins and worm farms to assist with balancing the food waste and maintaining porosity.

“The site has seen a 50% reduction by volume of waste going to landfill. We now recover approximately 5 tonnes of recyclables per month. Prior to starting this project, there were minimal recyclables recovered,” says Ms Grierson.

“Prisoners are gaining valuable information and knowledge about sustainable living that they can take home to their families. They’re also giving back to the community through the activities that recycle or repurpose items that are donated to the community as kindling, paper ‘fire’ bricks, hats and aprons for kids, pet blankets for HUHA, dog kennels for the SPCA and growing vegies and flowers for community organisations.”

The Recycling and Waste Reduction programme employs between eight and 15 prisoners for six hours a day, five days per week under the supervision of the Offender Employment Instructor. The men working on the project also earn credits in Health & Safety qualifications.

The winners will be announced at the Green Ribbon Awards ceremony hosted by Minister for the Environment Hon Dr Nick Smith, and Associate Minister for Conservation Hon Nicky Wagner in Parliament Buildings on Thursday 8 June.