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Sustainable renovation tips to be low waste

My Journey Towards a Sustainable and Intentional Renovation

Crushes is not just a shop, but it is also a mindset about sustainability. We carry this intentionality about our consumption and waste to all other aspects of our life - including renovations!

When we started a renovation at our place, we were shocked at how EASY it is to be wasteful! Maybe it was because we were going in to this project as n00bs with fresh eyes, but we saw the reality of the 'rip it out, and replace it' status quo. This mentality seemed absolutely foreign to me, and I was determined to not let it define the decisions we would make in our journey. This made me stop and research every decision I was making in this process to understand all the options, so I could make the most intentional conclusions that align with my values.

Knowing that we have many environmentally aware people within our Crushes community, I documented this process to show you everything I learnt about sustainability and the decisions I made to be as low waste and intentional as possible!

PN: I'm very aware that renovating a home is currently out of reach for so many and sincerely hope this article does not come across as braggy. I bring this to you solely in the hope that the information I found might be able to be carried in to whatever similar project you might have, whether it is reviving an office, a studio, or a home, now or in the future. After all, our generation will be the one that inherits this place, and we will be the ones to maintain and improve practices that will positively effect planet earth and reduce the impact on our changing climate!

Sustainable renovation tips to be low waste new zealand

Anticipating our first day of the renovation, I asked a thrift shop for donated clothes that had already been painted in, because as you know, it's a big sin around these parts to create textile waste and I wasn’t going to ruin any clothes I already own! Thrift shops always have these 'out the back' and can't sell them, so it is a win-win-win for you, the opshop and our whenua!

On the very first day, we started preparing the site for what had to go - Demolition Rose absolutely loved it!! But -- "where does our demolition waste go?!" was something I was quickly typing in to ol' mate Google because I don't know these things. The answer? Landfill. LAND. FILL. The land is literally f[i]ll of our old junk.

Sustainable tips for a low waste renovation new zealand

Sure enough, there was a better solution! I learnt about Green Gorilla which is a company in Aotearoa New Zealand that collects and processes all types of demolition waste and is able to successfully recycle / re-use 70% of it. That's over 10,000 tonnes a month, and 75,000 tonnes annually in Auckland alone. They turn old plasterboards in to compost, timber gets turned into biofuel (cool) and is also chipped to be used for landscaping. They deliver a large disposal bag, and all you have to do is call to get it picked up and taken to their Onehunga sorting facility.

Even though we were using Green Gorilla to recycle waste, I made it my personal mission to make sure that the only items that made it in the disposal bag were things I couldn’t repurpose myself. So items we weren't going to use like carpet, windows, appliances, handles, ceiling fans, light switches and fixtures, all got given away for free on marketplace to happy new owners who will give them a new lease on life because re-using is better than recycling. Another benefit of this is that the new owners came and removed items quickly, and it also results in saving us disposal costs (which are often priced according to weight).

Sustainable tips for a low waste renovation NEW ZEALAND

What we didn't give away, we fixed up. Instead of buying anything new, we kept what we had and restored it so that we could keep our foot print as low as possible. For example, it would have been easier to buy all new plaster board than the four weeks it took to scrape every piece of wallpaper, glue and residue off the walls, but we did not feel comfortable putting every wall of this house in to the skip - no thank you! We sanded back, filled and painted every door, and all of our timber joinery back to its original glory, and we powder coated aluminum frames. This idea about using what we have also meant accepting parts of the house that we wouldn't necessarily choose for ourselves, like keeping the strange skirting and pelmet (both of which I kind of like now, anyway). It gave us so much pride and joy to be so intentional in this way with our project, and it was also our cheapest option saving maybe thousands (PN: but also cost us a lot of time, which I acknowledge is a privilege in itself. Luckily we were in a lock down, so had plenty of it!) 

Sustainable tips for a low waste renovation NEW ZEALAND

When it came to choosing paint, our country had just come out of its first Covid related lock down, so the desire to shop and support local had never felt so important. A quick google search told me that Resene is New Zealand owned and operated, and has been since day one! They also stock so many NZ made paint accessories and brushes at their stores, which made it so easy to spread the love to many local businesses when they are all stocked at one retailer. Wait -- is that how you feel about coming to Crushes? 

The other thing that was really important for us when choosing paint was the environmental impact. I didn't know that in NZ you can’t dispose of old or used paint or paint cans in our wheelie bins because paint is counted as 'hazardous waste' and its illegal to dispose of incorrectly - who knew?! Well, maybe you did, but I certainly did not! But upon some research, Resene has a really good end of life program. They accept all old paint and donate it to be used on community projects. Resene also recycles their used and empty paint tins and buckets, and have been doing this for almost 20 years, which means they were being recycling legends before being green was cool! They're so committed to the recycling program, they even accept their competitors used products. No other paint company in Aotearoa does this, all in the name of sustainability!

Another aspect I learnt about paint was how hazardous paint can be to your health! You know that really stinky smell you get with paint/oils etc? That is the odour of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC's) that, when you breathe can cause shortness of breath, headaches, fatigue, nausea, dizziness and skin problems, as well as cause irritation to the lungs, liver, kidney, or central nervous system. It also causes havoc when released in to our air, creating gas emissions, and negatively effecting plants and animals, as it is an ozone depleting substance! Resene has been developing waterborne paint that is LOW and ZERO VOC for over 20 years to reduce the harm of paint to both the painter and the environment. Health is really important to us, so we only chose waterborne LOW VOC paints for this very reason. And just a bonus, unlike other paints, most waterborne have no animal products/bi-products so best use for vegans!

Okay, this might seem obvious, but I was new to painting so I hadn't heard that you can't simply wash your brushes in your sink (see above re: hazardous waste) and I'm sure I've done it many times with no idea not to! It can end up in our waterways. The other thing that made me not wash our brushes under a running tap was because our city was in a pretty severe drought at the time, so we had water restrictions which made me have to consider how to reduce the waste of water when cleaning out the brushes and rollers. After reading more resources about the environmental impact of paint on Resenes website (would recommend) I learnt a great practice to reduce water waste when washing out your brushes and rollers, that is; 

1. Roll out excess paint on to a piece of cardboard (once dry, you can safely dispose of in household rubbish disposal)
2. Set up two buckets of water; the first is used to rinse out as much paint as possible, and the second is to re-emerge in clean[er] water to make sure the rest of the paint is all washed out.
3. Cover the buckets to sit for the night where the paint and the water start to separate.
4. In the morning, the paint has formed together, so you can safely tip in to the garden (but keep away from what could be waterways). Then you can wipe out the paint, wait for it to dry and add to household rubbish disposal.

I'm so glad Resene cares about waste and carries the responsibility as a manufacturer to ensure the consumer gets information about safe and sustainable disposal, something many big businesses don't bother to do.

For those wondering, we used Resene paint colours Double Sea Fog, and Double Alabaster. We liked the combo because it felt restful. The shade goes with everything as the color profile has both warm and cold hues, so it could compliment any whacky secondhand furniture and art we have or may have in the future.

Transparency: After reading all of this on the Resene website, I was already brand loyal without even having placed an order. I got in touch with Resene about potentially being gifted the product in exchange for sharing the word about my research with our Crushes community, knowing that like me, our environmentally-conscious folk would be interested too. They agreed and gifted the product (no financial endorsement) but I want you to know I would of 100% chosen Resene either way for all of the reasons above. I am aware of this fantastic privilege, and want to thank Resene for their generosity. 

At the end of the renovation process, we decided that we needed to take up the carpet because of my partners severe dust mite allergies (which are so much better now by the way - we recommend swapping out any upholstery furniture, too). Upon research, choosing a waterborne sealant meant that there was a lot less VOC's than the alternatives. The only disadvantage was that the curing time was longer, but we thought that waiting certainly outweighed the health risk - especially if you consider about how much contact we have with our floors day in and day out!

And lastly, all of our furniture is vintage and second hand which we have slowly been sourcing (and slowly restoring where needed)! The only exception is our light fixtures, of which we purchased from NZ company Citta Design, because: shop local

Sustainable tips for a low waste renovation NEW ZEALAND

Sustainable tips for a low waste renovation NEW ZEALAND


At the end of this project, I love that we can look at all that we've done and have pride about the decisions we've made to reduce our environmental impact and support local businesses putting in the hard work. And you know what? It’s been really interesting and an eye opening experience to be able to employ everything that we stand for as Crushes in my own personal life by making intentional and mindful decisions towards sustainability.

I'd love to hear if you've learnt anything, or if you have any of your own tips you would like to contribute to this conversation! Comment below.

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Yaz - October 19, 2021

I really loved reading this and all you learnt in the process – which now I have learnt too from you sharing. Wonderful thankyou!

Ella - October 18, 2021

This is amazing, what a nice read and so cool to see something exciting happening in times (lockdowns grrr) where life can feel mundane.

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