Fond Farewell for One of Xtreme Zero Waste’s Founders


Looking at the Whāingaroa harbour today, you’d hardly think that 25 years ago the water quality was in a dire state. At the time there was a local dump leaching toxins into the soil and water, riparian planting hadn’t yet started and there were no kerbside recycling collections, let alone a food waste service.


(Listen to the full interview below:)



In true Raglan style, a Town Hall meeting gave birth to a group of passionate volunteers to address the landfill and waste issues in our community and Rick Thorpe was one of those volunteers. Last week, 22 years after Xtreme Waste was born, Rick hung up his hi-viz for the last time as he stepped down from his position at the now named, Xtreme Zero Waste.


“We had an amazing farewell at Xtreme. For me it was really a celebration for XZW. We have been running for the past 22 years and 450 people have worked there,” said Rick.


Rick’s had various roles at Xtreme over the years – including as operations manager and director – but more recently he has been Innovations Manager as well as being a member of the board and a trustee. While he remains a member of the board, he will be stepping back from the day-to-day activities.


“The team has got it nailed. I think it’s Important to create a vacuum so that Xtreme can adapt,” said Rick on the change in guard.


Rick says part of the reason he feels confident in stepping down is that the conversations around waste have changed significantly since ZXW started off as a rag-tag bunch of volunteers scrambling for funding 24 years ago.


The concept of zero-waste has become normalised as society grapples with the consequences of linear economies that are creating environmental disasters for our future generations. The outdated thinking around landfills is changing and more and more councils are seeing the value in waste diversion and minimisation and community-based resource recovery centres.


Xtreme were viewed with a healthy dose of scepticism back in the day as they launched the first recycle collections service in the Waikato with a barely-there truck. Rick recalls some precarious positions they found themselves in when it came to finances with managers sometimes not getting paid because they didn’t have the cashflow if an invoice was paid late.


For the first 7 years, Xtreme were only able to procure 1-year contracts through the council which had a crippling effect on their ability to borrow money. They even had a standoff with the council after they gave the waste contract to Waste Management over Xtreme – a tiff that resulted in the council phone lines being blocked in protest by the community.

The council’s thinking at the time was that Waste Management would provide a minimum level of service with minimum costs without considering the values of the community around diverting waste.


Although the contract was eventually given back to Xtreme after the community protested, their contract was cut out from the main district-wide waste contract that was given to Waste Management. It wasn’t until a new Waikato District Council manager for waste came through in 2006 that Xtreme were able to secure a 7-year contract  that allowed them to develop their services.


Running as an independent community enterprise has worked in the community’s favour as we now have one of the most innovative resource recovery centres in the country and were one of the first communities to have a food waste service that addressed the emissions produced from organic waste.


After all the years working at XZW, Rick is now considered a waste guru and advises the Auckland Council on their waste projects – a role he will continue after his retirement from XZW. He says he is seeing more partnerships and funding for resource recovery centres like XZW pop up with top-notch facilities that can cater to the volumes they’ll be seeing in bigger communities.


Locally in Whāingaroa, Rick is stoked with how far the team have come since they opened the first transfer station back in 2000. Having lived a fascinating life working with endangered species and marine reserves at the Department of Conservation prior to his illustrious career in waste he says that he had always wanted to work on projects that honoured relationships with communities, mana whenua and that honoured the treaty.

As for the future of waste, Rick says there is more work to be done especially addressing textile waste and the amount of carbon used in the industry as well as the construction and demolition waste produced from a growing Raglan community.


“Growth is happening in all coastal towns. What is the vibe of Raglan? How do we manage growth? We have finite resources and have to ask the hard questions of what are the limits?”

Rick says he has “No regrets,” about what Xtreme have achieved over the years and that there is an amazing team at Xtreme who are more than capable of taking over the reins.