Inner-city market zeros in on zero waste

Malls and retailers are adopting sustainability practices to minimise onsite waste. And then there are those that have made sustainability part of their DNA.  

Christchurch's new $80 million Riverside Market – a seven-day trading, indoor market in central Christchurch – exemplifies the true potential of sustainability and waste minimisation practices when they are engineered into a business from the start.

The market building includes bricks from demolished parts of the Duncan's buildings in High Street, and timber from demolished quake-damaged central city buildings and old Lyttelton wharves. Shoppers are encouraged to bring "baskets, beeswax wraps, glass jars, and keep cups". Market developers are also building a case for installing solar panels on the roof.

With 30 food outlets and 40 market stalls, plus a food collective and rooftop bars and restaurants, the market attracts 10,000-20,000 customers a day.

Managing food and packaging waste is a key ingredient in a bold plan to become a zero-waste operation.


Market developer and co-owner Mike Percasky said targeting zero waste was ambitious.

"Obviously that wasn’t going to happen on day one, but we wanted to put things in place so that we could take advantage of technology and processes when they became available," he said.

From opening day, all goods’ packaging and serve-ware had to be compostable or recyclable. But it would require a sustained campaign of education and liaison with market retailers and suppliers to ensure all boxes were ticked.

Nine months before opening, Percasky and his team whistled up EnviroWaste to hatch a plan.


Much of today’s packaging claims to be compostable. However, a lot isn’t because composability is largely dependent on satisfying standards set by local composters.

For example, compostable cups are a valid proposition in Auckland, but the same cups end up in landfill in Wellington, because the local council has banned cups containing an ingredient called polylactic acid (PLA) – a renewable thermoplastic polymer used by compostable cup makers – from its commercial composter in order to obtain a special organic certification.

Aware of the many pitfalls, EnviroWaste and Riverside examined recent trials and pilots in the region to ascertain what was working well and what is best practise for reducing waste. They decided to implement a system where the cleaners utilise purpose-built sorting stations to sort and decontaminate the recyclable waste streams into specifically labelled bins. With the data collected, they developed targeted and ongoing education and training on the use of the system, for Riverside tenants.

Riverside also worked with EnviroWaste to ensure individual retailers and their suppliers used serve-ware and packaging that satisfied conditions stipulated by local composters. This involved a mountain of work to verify the status of food packaging and assist non-compliant retailers to source appropriate packaging and supporting documentation.   

Riverside shoppers deposit food scraps – including serve-ware – into organic bins, and bottles and tins into recycling bins. Individual food operators do the same with their own waste and cleaners deal with waste that isn’t deposited in bins.

Cross contamination of waste streams is an ongoing challenge, requiring manual ‘backroom’ sorting to ensure material goes into the correct stream for compacting and removal.


Six months after opening, Riverside was diverting 67% of waste from landfill. Organics, including approved compostable cups and serve-ware, made up 38% of the market’s entire waste stream, taking a big bite out of landfill.

“We’re saving a huge amount from landfill – and it’s not costing us too much more to do that,” said Percasky.

So, is zero waste achievable? Current recycling provisions exclude soft plastics and large tins and plastic bottles, so there will always be an element of waste. However, new technology and packaging practices are likely to further reduce general waste in the future.   

“Compared to where we were, we’re stoked,” said Percasky. “EnviroWaste has been great all the way through. Setting things up was an onerous job – what we were trying to do hadn’t been done before on this scale. So, we’re really pleased.”  

Pictured below:  Riverside market and shopping lane


 riverside lanes people