Lesley’s 14-year love affair with rethinking waste

Eco Educate founder Lesley Ottey has spent the last 14 years challenging Waimakariri’s young – and not so young – to rethink waste and has no plans to slow down anytime soon.

This is an extract from the April 2024 e-Newsletter

In 2010, the sustainability educator set up her business after being gobsmacked at how blissfully unaware some people are about where their food comes from, and their waste goes.

Since then, the business has grown to a team of thirteen passionate eco-educators, who each bring their own flavour and skillset to address the many questions around sustainability.

Lesley says Eco Educate has been working in Waimakariri with the council contract for about thirteen years now.

“Our role in the Waimakariri is funded by the council to help and support schools and the wider community reduce their waste to landfill and look after water, which is a massive umbrella to work under.”

More than 70 Waimakariri preschools and schools are benefiting from Eco Educate. Their engaging sessions can cover anything from reducing waste, making worm farms and compost, through to learning about water – including where it comes from, how to conserve it, and what happens when we flush.

While there’s a plethora of topics they can cover, Lesley says workshops can be tailored to help mitigate the issues happening at a particular school.

“We might walk into a school and the caretaker will say to us that someone’s been flushing yoghurt pottles full of shingle and they ask if we can mention that in our talks.”

Alongside their work with schools, Eco Educate also run an audit team who are out and about on collection days, checking kerbside recycling bins. This is to help lower the amount of contamination that’s going into the trucks. Lesley says auditing can be hard work, and even scary at times, especially when people react to their bins getting tagged.

“Say hi to the auditing team and give them a smile because they’re literally saving the district hundreds of thousands of dollars. We want to be able to help and support getting it correct, but when someone puts wood ash or grass clippings in their recycling bin, no one’s going to be able to clean that out of a truckload.

“Most of our recyclers are good people wanting to do the right thing. And we totally understand plastic confusion. So, stick to what the new council stickers say and then you’ll get it right. You can collect new stickers for your bins from any Council service centre.”

One of Lesley’s most memorable moments in her career was going back to a recycling bin after it was found containing used nappies and food.

“We went back two weeks later to check that bin, and the lady came running out, and she was from Brazil – English was very much a second language – and her bin was perfect. She was so mortified that she’d got it wrong that she tipped out its contents, and scrubbed and cleaned the bin. The bin had gone from smelling like used nappies to soap powder and butterflies.”

While her work has gained recognition at the North Canterbury Business Awards, she says the biggest buzz was when she bumped into a past student who told her she was the reason she’d gone to study environmental science.

“The feedback’s just lovely and seeing the changes from people just wanting to try and do stuff differently… This is the sort of stuff that gives me hope.”

Eco Educate can support anyone from schools, businesses, and community groups, and even offer behind-the-scenes tours of Southbrook Resource Recovery Park.

Lesley and the Eco Educate team will also be at the Back to Basics Waimakariri expo on Saturday 20 April from 11am – 2pm, at Rangiora Baptist Church Hall. 
Head to ecoeducate.co.nz or visit their Facebook page to find out more.

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