Media Release: Community composting could save Auckland Council $100m

March 16, 2018 by  
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Every year Aucklanders produce over 110,000 tonnes of organic food waste. Fortunately 35% of Aucklanders are green fingered and compost at home, another 2% support community gardens but unfortunately 61% of us put food waste into Council bins destined for landfill.

The food waste that ends up in our landfill produces leachate, essentially acid, and in many of Auckland’s old landfills this can contaminate the ground water and also produces methane which is 21 times worse for greenhouse gas emissions than CO2. 

Through the Auckland Waste Minimisation Strategy Auckland Council has been working towards diverting food waste from landfill. Auckland Council is currently consulting on its Long Term Plan on a number of key local issues including a waste levy of $67 on kerbside food waste collection.

Auckland Council is currently in a RFI process with two waste companies to create a kerbside collection using diesel trucks delivering over 55,000 tonnes of food waste per year to two methane plants situated one in the far north and one in the far south of Auckland. These plants draw the water out of the bio mass burning the hydrogen producing electricity to run the plant. Under the proposed terms Auckland Council would be locked down by two duopolies for a long period of time and the contracts could potentially be worth $630m over twenty years.

One local councillor is questioning the methodology and saying focusing more on community composting would save Auckland Council millions over ten years.

 Waitemata Local Board member Rob Thomas says “Auckland Council spending over $500 per tonne for a region wide compost collection service is expensive when comparted to composting at home in communities or even taking in to the tip green waste service for $142 per tonne.”

“Thousands of diesel trucks movements a year will generate huge CO2 emissions in complete contradiction to Mayor Phil Geoff’s support of the C40 Climate Change Initiatives. The proposed service will be harmful to our environment and further drive the planet into climate catastrophe.”

Instead Mr Thomas is proposing an alternative mix of household composting, community composting and a scaled down version of the food waste collection service that could save Auckland Council over $100m over ten years with zero emissions.

 “Over 35% of Aucklanders already compost at home and I do not understand why Auckland Council would not be using some of the $67 a household to encouraging a greater uptake. If Auckland Council were to encourage 50% of Aucklanders to compost at home, which is not an unreasonable target, this could save ratepayers over $100m over the next ten years.”

Mr Thomas is quick to point out that a compost bin at The Warehouse costs $45 and with some additional training for $30 per household or searching for free on “how to compost” on YouTube could save the Council an enormous amount of money.

“If Auckland Council gave away free compost bins to households wanting to compost at home this could save Auckland Council $585 every ten years. It’s a no-brainer. “

However, Auckland Council is proposing to lock-in all households to the collection service and there is no option to opt-out for potentially decades.

Aucklanders should be able to opt-out of the service if they decide to compost at home or support a local community garden producing local food in the neighbourhood. I don’t believe Aucklanders should be locked down by a food waste duopoly that is expensive and environmentally harmful.”

Like many Aucklanders Mr Thomas lives in an apartment and understands that not every Aucklander can compost or are willing to participate which is why he is proposing a community collection service. Across Auckland there are over 300 community gardens in local neighbourhoods and through school programmes such as Enviro Schools & Garden to Table.

“Auckland Council has existing relationships with a large network of community gardens. Identifying a number with these groups and instead of burning micro biology out of the soil we could be growing food in our community.”

Kilmarna Garden in Herne Bay was recently awarded an Auckland Council waste reduction grant to use sustainable electric bikes to collect food waste from the surrounding area to grow food. Mr Thomas believes the proposal has the ability to create local employment, have a zero emissions operation, have an anaerobic large scale composting system to serve local households, grow local food, create revenue from food sales, act as a carbon sink and be sustainable. A similar service was run on Waiheke Island which supporting food waste collection for 150 households and the community market.

“Working in partnership with existing community garden would help to reduce food waste to landfill, reduce cost, create greater community engagement, create carbon sinks, educate our communities and deliver high-nutrition food into our community.”

Over the next 50 years major climatic changes will occur on the planet due to the increase in greenhouse gas emissions. There is a world-wide concern about food security and many communities around the world are taking action to take control of the production of soil and growing local food source. A European Union Report in 2012 called Sustainable Food in Urban Communities identified how food waste was being used to develop low-carbon and resource-efficient urban food systems in cities around the world.

“Other cities around the world are adopting food growing in urban communities. Auckland’s Communities need to also be resilient to the challenges of climate change. Decentralising the food waste model through composting at home and community gardens will create greater resilience and solutions to climate change.”

Auckland Council’s Long Term Plan is currently open for consultation.

To submit your feedback visit:



Decentralising the Food Waste Model


Media Contact

Rob Thomas, Elected Member, Waitemata Local Board




Auckland’s First Organic Garden Market

February 26, 2018 by  
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On the 31st March 2018 the community is invited to visit the Symonds Street Junction Community Garden to start pulling together Auckland First Organic Garden Market.

The new garden will encourage large scale composting of green waste, volunteering and the sale of organic vegetables.

Check out the event on Facebook 

Thank you to the For the love of bees – a city bee collaboration , the Uptown Business Association  and AKLPhantom Billstickers for forging a new way forward for our community.

It has been a great pleasure to have championed the Symonds Street Junction Community Garden and see it take on a new life.

Further stories:




A PumpTrack, A Boy & A Bike

November 22, 2017 by  
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Since we launched the Grey Lynn Pump Track I’ve herd some inspiring stories but there is one that has truly touched me.

When Paul and Scott started building the Pump Track earlier this year there was a young boy and his twin brother from the neighborhood that were hovering along the construction fence. Almost every day he was down in the park checking out the construction, wide eyed,  inquisitive and eager to learn. He stood there in the sunshine and visited them during the start of the harsh winter months.

The boy had just started to learnt to ride a bike and when the pump track opened six months ago someone gave him a second hand bike to learn on. As the pump track had been punished with a number of wet weather events the Pump Track Crew decided to hold off the opening until the summer months.

Last Saturday the Pump Track was opened with over 120 neighborhood kids entering the time trial heats for each category. The boy along the fence had been practicing over the winter and entered the event.

He blitz the qualifying rounds and won his age group category.

The prize was a new bike.

At the end of the event he went to give the bike back to Paul and Scott and they had to explain that it was his to keep.

His father made it to the track that day to watch him win and mentioned how proud he was.


Auckland Summer Events 2017-18

October 5, 2017 by  
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Summer has almost arrived in Auckland and there are some great up-coming-events that promotes and celebrates our community.
This is a list of just a few you might find interesting:
14th October – Auckland Diwali Festival facebook
28th October – MexFestival
2nd November – Smith & Caughey’s Christmas Window Lights Opening
11th November – Ellen Melville Community Day, Freyberg Place facebook
12th November – Parnell Waiters Race, Parnell Road facebook
16th November – Taste of Auckland, Western Springs facebook
18th November – Grey Lynn Pump Track Opening, Grey Lynn Park facebook
19th November – Parnell Festival of Roses, Parnell Rose Gardens facebook
25th November – Grey Lynn Park Festival facebook
26th November – Farmers Santa Parade facebook
1st December – Summer in the Square, Aotea Square website
1st December – Night Noodle Market website
2nd December – Ponsonby Market Day
3rd December – Paws in Parnell, Heard Park website
9th December – Coca Cola Christmas in the Park website
14th December – Takapuna Beach Polo website
18th December – Dancing in the Park, Albert Park website
31st December – Britomart Block Party
1st January – ASB Classic Tennis
10 January- 20 March Music in Parks
29 January  – Laneway Festival
1 March – Lantern Festival
March – Auckland Arts Festival
24-25 March Pasifika Festival
24 March The Dual Traverse
For theater shows and stadium events visit:
Basement Theater –
Auckland Theater Company –
Auckland Philharmonia
 Silo Cinema 2_3

Eat before viewing – data model shows Auckland’s sewage problem

September 28, 2017 by  
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The age old saying that the truth will set you free is exemplified in the latest data model released by Auckland Council showing the three day sewage overflow in Auckland.

In the historic suburbs of Herne Bay, St Mary’s Bay, Freeman’s Bay, Parnell and Newmarket there are non-separated sewage pipes. This combined with more than 70% of our land being covered in impervious surfaces has increased the pressure of storm water into aged infrastructure. Each year over 2,000,000 cubic meters of contaminated waste water flows into the Waitemata Harbour.

If water quality is important to you please email Auckland’s Mayor , Chair of the Infrastructure Committee Councillor Penny Hulse and Chairperson for Planning Committee Councillor Chris Darby .

My office DIY hanging bottle food garden

June 12, 2017 by  
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Rob Hanging Food Garden


In my student days I living in flats across Auckland and loved growing a range of produce such as corn, cherry tomatoes, beans, chilies, lettuce, capsicums, courgettes, carrots, broccoli and strawberries (in the photos below). When I moved into my apartment in 2011 I missed having an outdoor space for my green thumbs but that wasn’t going to stop me.

Rob Garden Flats


There was a website I stumbled across called which had contributions from thousands of people worldwide united by the trials and tribulations of harvesting food from apartment hanging gardens. The site doesn’t exist anymore but this is a screen shot of the landing page showing the community of 45,100 people from around the world:



With great aspirations of creating my own garden, to upgrade the designs from the website, I set out to develop a fully off the grid power supply with faster seed germination and plant growth.

This was the schematic that I rendered designed to pull electricity from the sun and convert this power into pumping the water and creating red & blue lighting within the ultra violet spectrum for rapid photosynthesis.

Rob Thomas Office Solar Food Project set up


Click on the link for the PDF: Solar Food Project set up

Sourcing items from online, hardware stores and reaching into recycle bins, I called my mates over to help with soldering and rigging the system.

The first concept

Rob Thomas Solar Food Garden Setup Rob Thomas Solar Food Garden Setup Night







































This system worked until the battery ran out.

Despite strong resolution, the awesome look and eminence technology the first design did not provide enough solar sun to charge the battery and power the rigging for the water pump, ozone generator, lights, heat lamp and re-charge the battery.

The other major challenge I had was I used soil in the rigging which blocked the pipes and often caused minor floods.


The season of cherry tomatoes

Scrolling back through the windowfarms site I realized that I needed to convert the garden into a hydroponic system with clay beads and coconut husk.  I replaced the 12v battery driven pump with a fish tank air pump plugged into the mains electrical supply.

Berried among coconut husks the cherry tomato seeds started to sprout.

Tomatoe plants













Within weeks the plants had started to scale up and beyond the bottles. Rigging was required to manage the large canopy growing over every inch of the window. To manage the system I reduced the two part system to a single hanging bottle system with plants growing from just the top and bottom bottle. The results were spectacular.

Rob Hanging Food Garden 2


Flowers blossomed across the branches but without bees to fertilize the flowers I started to use a small paint brush to dust the flowers.

Cherry Tomatoes 2














For 7-8 months cherry tomatoes fruited in the window in absence of season and soil.

Cherry Tomatoes











Weekly maintenance was required to replace water, with more than 1 litre of water required each day, trimming the roots and branches but the fruits were worth the labour.


Season two with hot capsicums

After the Christmas Holiday period it was time for a change and to experiment with new seeds and a double rigging system.

Bottles hanging garden










A small number of cherry tomatoes from last year re-seeded from fallen fruit.

However, the successor in the new season are two very healthy hot capsicum plants now in fruit.

capsicum Hot Mix

Season 2 Rob Thomas 2



























Season 2 Rob Thomas 3

Season 2 Rob Thomas















Thanks to all my friends who helped to build the first prototype and for my partner for putting up with the constant changes.



October 17, 2016 by  
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Auckland’s Inner-City Ward is a highly contested political stomping ground. You don’t have to go much further than the efforts of National’s Nikki Kaye vs Labour’s Jacinda Ardern to understand the effort, commitment and resources that are spent to firstly support the community and secondly contest the electoral seat.

Despite the confusing political alliances that are formed in #Auckland #LocalGovernment, such as Team Waitemata, C&R, City Vision, Auckland Future, Affordable Auckland and the independent candidates; this is a highly represented and contest local community.

Here are the trends as I saw them in the 2016 elections:


-Waitemata & Gulf Ward Councillor-

In the Councillor seat Bill Ralston was almost 1,000 votes earshot of MikeLee, the closest result in three terms of the Super City. While being an independent is a major challenge my voter base grew by almost 1,500 this election and has almost doubled in two terms. With Mike Lee’s 30+ year political life and my fledgling 6.. it’s just a matter of time and change is the wind.



-Waitemata Local Board-

The Waitemata Local Board has had a refresh with just four incumbents remaining. Members Pippa Coom and VoteRobThomas were the clear front runners with over 8,000 votes each while Shale Chambers received over 7,000 votes. City Vision new comers Adriana Avendaño Christie and Richard Northey along with Auckland Future candidates #MarkDavey, and former #WaitemataLocalBoard member Vernon Tava making the cut. There were just 10 votes separating Jonathan Good and Vernon, followed by four other candidates within 500 votes. Former Auckland City Councillor and Local Board member Greg Moyle polled in twelfth place. With former Local Board Members Christopher Dempsey and Deborah Yates deciding not to stand for re-election.


The centre left once had a commanding lead in #Waitemata but the margin has now narrowed by over 10% of the overall vote and this is a clear shift towards a great balance of decision making across the political spectrum. Fresh faces provide both an opportunity for new thinking but also a challenge of continuity. New members Adriana and Mark are business #entrepreneurs and should bring a greater depth to the decision making process.

Waitemata Local Board Election Results

The next chairperson will need to be collaborative and act fairly to bring members together. In my view the workloads across each portfolio, business association and committee delegation can no longer be held by one group but will need to be shared to get the best outcomes for our community.



-Waiheke Island Local Board-

It was a great result for independents on #Waiheke Island with newly elected #BobUpchurch leading the charge, independent new comer Cath Handley, independent incumbents Shirin Brown and John Meeuwsen and former chairperson Paul Walden.


-Great Barrier Island Local Board-

With such a small population, the voting is always close on Great Barrier Island with just 276 votes separating first and last place. #IzzyFordhammaintained her commanding lead followed by new comer Luke Coles for local board, Sue Daly is back on along with #JeffCleave and ecologist #ShirleyJohnson.

Overall there was a feeling of change and this was reflected in the number of new faces and a string of independents successfully elected across the ward.

*election figures taken from, Auckland Council, and Wikipedia.

The Pollinator Pathway in Hakanoa Reserve

October 2, 2016 by  
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Eight months ago a post graduate student in landscape architecture Andrea Reid approached the Waitemata Local Board to discuss her Pollinator Pathways university assignment. The general premise of the proposal identified the massive loss of habitat for pollinators such as bees, insects, lizards and birds in urban areas due to the reduction in habitats in the built environment and diseases that have ravished bee colonies. The concept was to reintroduce habitats into the urban landscape. The original concept designs from her university portfolio are quite spectacular and there are many concepts yet to be realised for Auckland.

Pollinator Pathways 2
Andrea presented to Waitemata Local Board member Deborah Yates and me in the environmental portfolio. The original proposal was targeted in Kingsland to intersect with railway land, Auckland Transport land and a local neighbourhood. Apart from the proposal not being in our electoral ward, the proposal would have been highly complex introducing a new concept to multiple stakeholders on land designated for infrastructure. A new location had to be identified that was within control of the Waitemata Local Board’s area of influence and decision making.
Two proposed locations were recommended to Andrea; the Grey Lynn Greenway that was being built from Coxs Bay via Hakanoa Reserve to Grey Lynn Park; the second proposed location was the Auckland Domain as a feeder network for pollinators within existing reserve land. With these options on the table Andrea decided to pursue the Grey Lynn Greenway option.
With funds committed by the Waitemata Local Board to develop the in-park component of the walking and cycling corridors of the Grey Lynn Greenway this was already a live project. With the hard walking & cycling infrastructure of the corridor underway the Pollinator Pathway was a natural fit to deliver enhanced ecological connection between Coxs Bay and Grey Lynn Park.
The two draft designs looked to collaborate with private land owners of Mitre 10 to build a butterfly farm along the Westmoreland Street West western side of the berm and the Farro Fresh garden which already has an active bee hive.

Pollinator Pathway Rob Thomas Andrea Reid Mitre 10 Auckland
The owner at Mitre 10, Warren, was superb and went through all the internal management process and had Mitre 10 approved the wall to be used as a habitat for butterflies. This is, of course, now my preferred home improvement depo for all my purchases. Mitre 10 corporate where amazing. However, Auckland Transport created a barrier, requested a deposit of $1k to use the berm which was so unreasonable and against the key principles of the Greenway Concept. This concept is still very much alive with an initial design if at some point Auckland Transport can join the party.

Pollinator Pathway Andrea Reid Farro Fresh Rob Thomas Auckland
The Farro Fresh team were initially on-board with the partnership proposition but had concerns over health & safety of people walking in the carpark with new legislation coming down the pipeline. Also, the proposed Auckland Transport Greenway Route along the fence line was still under concept design and Auckland Transport could provide no clarity or certainty over the new route.
The most obvious location was to refocus on park land and in particular Hakanoa Reserve. One late evening Andrea and I walked the route looking for the ideal spot. It was clear that the V shaped junction on Sackville Street as a point of entry to the Greenway, with its existing community lending library, would be an ideal location for the first pollinator pathway. To make the future greenway connection a success there needed to be visual ques to show people the way between Coxs Bay and Grey Lynn Park and this seemed liked the ideal spot.
To deliver the project, Andrea applied to the Waitemata Local Board community grant of $7,500 which was successful. As funds need to be accountable, Andrea worked under the umbrella of Chris from the GECKO Trust New Zealand who provides support for hundreds of community led projects across Auckland. Having assisted her throughout the possess I declared my conflict of interest and allowed the other member of the Waitemata Local Board to talk and make the decision on the grant application.

A community open day was held and the project received 100% positive feedback with most saying just “get on with it”.


Left to Right: Rob Thomas (Waitemata Local Board), Andrea Reid (Pollinator Pathways), Andrea’s Mum and Chris Ferkins (Gecko Trust) consulting in Hakanoa Reserve


Left to Right: Deborah Yates (Waitemata Local Board), Andrea Reid (Pollinator Pathways), Jennifer Northover (Grey Lynn Business Association) and Rob Thomas (Waitemata Local Board).

The weeks that followed Andrea pushed hard through the land owner consent process and requirements placed on her from the Council’s Parks Team. Andrea presented to a number of groups including the Grey Lynn Business Association, local schools and kept the Grey Lynn Residents Association informed of the project. A stakeholder email newsletter was compiled with regular updates on community feedback, concept design and the important volunteer day. Throughout the project there were regular meetings between Andrea, Chris and I to help with the project.
The scene was set. On Saturday 1st October 2016 after the rain had stopped and before the volunteers arrived a butterfly from the surrounding neighbourhood flew in and landed on one the swan plants. Andrea was able to capture the moment in this photo. For that moment, even if it was for less than 20 seconds, it had seemed the site had received its blessing.

Volunteers from all over the community came to dig up the grass, plant vivid pollinator plants, lay bark and watch the release of the bumble bees.



Earlier in the week builders put together a small “insect hotel” wall ready for local children to build habits for insects. Stones, sticks and sand were collected from around the neighbourhood to place in the masonry blocks for the insect habitats. A group of local kids went back home to tack river stones from their house to place in the wall with the parents not blinking an eye.

While everyone dug up the grass, to prevent weeds, there were a number of Irish jigs being fiddled and it seemed like we were digging up potatoes or peat from the swamps. There was a great community atmosphere as people worked the land and children ran around getting face paints and rummaging through the bush to find sticks. Even the local police arrived to help.



The volunteers took to planting, with children being taught how to carefully remove the bag from around the root, dipping the base into active fungal water, laying top soil and placing in the ground without air bubbles that would kill the roots.



The enormous task of placing bark as the ground cover saw three wheel barrows arrive on site from neighbouring properties. Everyone was chipping in, especially the young children climbing up the mound of bark and sliding down the other side.



Then came the moment everyone had been waiting for – the release of the bumble bees. The bee boxes had been securely put in place for the leaf cutting bees and the bumble bees. The night before Andrea had received the bumble bees in a cardboard box ready to be released into their new home. Despite the rain, one bumble bee emerged from the box and did its inaugural circular flight before eventually returning.




The day was a huge success. Even the gorilla tactical urbanism of Waitemata Local Board Member Pippa Coom, entirely endorsed by myself, painting yellow lines to prevent cars parking on the entryway for walking and cycling along the Greenway. Feedback Auckland Transport had not responded to despite many requests. Good on you Pippa!





Over the next three months local residents have been asked to help water the plants, especially the swan plants, to ensure they survive the change of season.

It’s still early days but the overwhelming support from the community shows it to have been a great success. Time will tell as the bees and insects become accustom to the space that New Zealand native lizards might find refuge in low foliage as the plants mature, and the Nikau Palms over the next 10 years provide fruit and sanctuary for birds.

The combination of Andrea’s design expertise, her dedication, vision and passion from the project was contagious. There are many good ideas but it takes a certain person to see this through to completion and bring others along with you on the journey.

The Pollinator Pathway in Hakanoa Reserve was always envisaged to be a catalyst for future project. To make pollinator paths a part of Auckland’s urban design fabric there needs to be greater buy-in from orgnisations like Auckland Transport. The Hakanoa Reserve Pollinator Pathway project shows the great depth of support that exists within our community for these types of initatives.

So, where to next!



Auckland’s Land Use Plan

September 16, 2016 by  
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There are prime sections of land all across our city centres that are underutilised; either vacant or used for car parking. The Council and the Government received very little tax revenue from leaving these prime sections under developed. Rather than focusing our attention of Greenfield sites that require hundreds of millions of dollars in infrastructure projects that the Auckland Council cannot afford, there needs to be a focus on sites with existing infrastructure with greater land yield return.

My land use plan for Auckland:

  • Auckland Property Development Agency Panuku to identify prime development sites in central city/town locations and work with owners/developers to incentivise growth with a maximum five year rates pay back period for Council.
  • A key focus of new developments are for housing; support housing shortages.
  • Auckland Council identify site that incorporate further social housing.


Case Study: Hobsonville vs UpTown

Hobsonville will eventually have 3,000 dwellings contributing $6-7m in rates per year. The infrastructure cost for Hobsonville was $535m for a mains pipe and $110m for local roads. The cost of the overall infrastructure in this community is likely to be paid back over 100-120 years and therefore this is not a financially sustainable growth model for Auckland Council.

UpTown (Upper Symonds Street) could eventually have 12,000 dwellings contributing $16m per year. There is little to no infrastructure cost and incentives of up to $80m would be paid off in five years. Plus this area will have greater economic growth than Hobsonville and greater government tax generation. After this Auckland Council earns an additional $16m per year and has a greater and more vibrant community. Win win win win win win.

Having multipul high-yield development site will start generating $100m of dollars in addtional rates within 5 years. This will allow the Council to pay off debt and/or pay for infrastructure projects like transport.

Transport Plan for Auckland

September 16, 2016 by  
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Auckland needs to encourage greater population growth around our major rail, bus and ferry hubs/towns/city centres. We need to provide seperated heavy rail, lightrail, bus and ferry services that are frequent, reliable, affordable and environmentally friendly that connect these hubs.

This electoin I support:

  • A direct Rail Connection from the Auckland Airport via the Puhinui Station.
  • Delivering the Central Railway Line project with stricter controls and governence to prevent esculating cost.
  • Championing for the second harbour crossing to have Rail to the NorthShore.
  • I will continue to suppor the role-out of cycling & walking projects to make it safe for commuters and recreational users.
  • A greater focus on clean technology to reduce air pollution from our public transport.





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