Perched on barren windswept hills behind Porirua, the largest and most successful regional recycling landfill operation in the country is turning around the lives of people with mental health needs.
Mana Recovery started life 16 years ago providing vocational rehabilitation after the long-stay psychiatric wards closed at Porirua Hospital, north of Wellington.
Now it is a growing, largely self-sustaining recycling enterprise providing both jobs and training. Last year it had a turnover of $1.8 million and made a $112,000 surplus, and this year it is looking at $2.1 million in revenue.
For the past decade, Mana Recovery has run Trash Palace second-hand shop near Spicer's Landfill in Porirua, recycling and harvesting materials and offering on-the-job training for people suffering conditions like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
A registered nurse with mental health experience, Mana Recovery chief executive Elizabeth Coluzzi is passionate about the award-winning enterprise. Mana receives some funding from Capital Coast District Health Board and Porirua City Council but generates most of its income from its business activities.
All proceeds go back into the organisation, mainly to provide more employment opportunities for trainees.
"When they were put out into the community, those people did not have the skills to live in the world," Coluzzi said.
A group of concerned people associated with the hospital and family members got together, established the non-profit organisation and with the help of district health board funding started running day programmes to provide living skills, vocational training and rehabilitation.
The programmes ran for about five years but finding jobs for clients proved tough. "It is hard enough getting people into jobs, let alone if they have a disability like very high severity mental health needs," she said.
Trash Palace was launched as a second-hand goods and recycling centre at the gates of the landfill.
After occupational training and skill testing, clients moved into outside jobs if they were capable, or were placed in jobs at Trash Palace.
The organisation also recycles metal and electronic material and established the country's first electronic dismantling training programme.
Goods are recycled and repaired, like billboard vinyl skins that would otherwise go in the landfill, and electrical items tested and recycled. Business waste such as paper, cardboard and plastic, are picked up and recycled from any business in the Wellington region. The organisation has a small van and trailer to collect the waste which is then sorted, providing basic vocational training for clients and introducing them to work ethics.
The biggest supporter of the business recycling programme is The Warehouse throughout the Wellington region.
A first step for clients is a training programme through Mana's Oranga Centre, providing basic skills including reading, writing, maths, life skills, how to manage home life, use eftpos cards and do banking.
About 50 staff are employed, 27 of whom have come through the training programme. There are currently 70 people in training.
Clients are on minimum or above wages, belong to a collective and have a code of conduct.
"They have the same expectations as everyone," Coluzzi said.
Employees also work for a lawn-mowing service and do general contract work. Mana is contracted to the council for gardening work and is currently discussing lawnmowing services.
"The main push is to get employees into mainstream employment.
"We now have a project manager working to try and get some of our longer-staying and high-functioning people into long-term employment."
Jobs they could go into included recycling, storeman positions, packing, warehouse, factory and cleaning work.
Coluzzi said there were huge advantages for clients.
"It does amazing things for their confidence and self-esteem, gives them a new purpose in life which flows on to their family. It provides a good sense of well-being. They stay better longer with fewer episodes of mental health crises, having a full day, good socialisation and developing friends."
Mana Recovery is looking at growth in the sustainability area, recycling electronic waste after being leaders in the field around the country and putting out training manuals. Employees disassemble TVs and other electronic equipment and send glass to RCN e-Cycle, which recycles and rebuilds waste.
"Electronic waste is the biggest growing waste stream in the world," she said.
Next year the organisation will replace its van with a 7-tonne truck to triple the amount of business waste collected from around the region.
Mana Recovery had scooped a slew of awards, including the Community Action for the Environment-Volunteer & Not for Profit section of the Green Ribbon Awards, the top award at last year's Wellington Airport Regional Community Awards and the Green Gold award at the Wellington Gold Awards.