Planting into recycled containers.A new initiative at Otago Corrections Facility (OCF) is reducing the prison’s environmental footprint while providing offenders with extra prison employment opportunities.

“We’re always looking for ways to be more environmentally friendly,” says Assistant Prison Director Gill Brown. “Being situated in the middle of beautiful Milton, we’re very aware of the impact a large organisation like the prison, with our footprint, can have on the local environment.”

The prison has begun a large recycling project which moves milk cartons from the prisoner’s daily intake from the waste and into new local projects. The recycling project is the first phase development of an environmental collaboration between the prison’s carpentry workshop and the horticulture team.

“Every prisoner receives two cartons a day as part of the prison menu. This adds up to 4,800 milk cartons a week that could otherwise be going to waste,” says Acting Prison Director, Lyndal Miles. “These can now be recycled for the wetland and other horticulture projects.”

“Each of the 300ml cartons is cleaned, has drainage holes inserted and is sent to horticulture industries so they can be used for seed cultivation.”

OCF is a working prison aiming to engage prisoners in 40 hours a week of constructive activities, including education, rehabilitation, and training programmes.

“The recycling of milk cartons is a great project for engaging prisoners who are unable to do more physical work,” says Gill. “These prisoners can get involved in ongoing work which has purpose and provides them with a sense of achievement. It’s important for people in prison to be busy doing things that are meaningful as it helps pass the time and provides them with some structure in their day.”

The prisoners are spending about two hours per day washing and stamping the cartons ready for delivery to horticulture.

The stamping press, which makes the holes, was designed and built by a prisoner studying and learning in the OCF carpentry workshop. He had a brief to produce a tool that can punch holes in the bottom of the milk carton to allow for the free flow of water and root growth. The tool also had to be durable and safe to allow for its operation inside the Unit. It has no moving parts or blades, making it safe to use and is very simple and effective.

“This provided an excellent opportunity for a prisoner studying carpentry to take on a brief, speak with the ‘customer’ about the ‘problem’, design a solution and take that through to a product,” says Gill. “There’s some real pride in that.”

Horticulture fills the cartons with suitable soil for planting seeds and seedlings. The cartons are then placed on the heated propagating table that stabilises the soil temperature at a steady 19 degrees Celsius to encourage vigorous root growth all year round.

OCF carpentry has also developed a seed husking apparatus that separates the husk from the seed before washing.

The prison has a large horticulture growing programme, including cultivation of a variety of wild sourced seed for the Hokonui wetlands horticulture project in partnership with the local Hokonui runanga. They also grow flax for the Invercargill Prison Oreti river project; red tussock for the Eglington Valley project with DOC; ongoing supply of indigenous native plants to the Sinclair Wetlands; supplying 2,500 kowhai plants for project Gold funded by DOC; and flowers and natives for site replacement and beautification.

“Many of the seeds have been specially sourced for the Hokonui wetlands and other areas we are helping to replant,” says Gill. “These are delivered to the prison and we grow them to a healthy plant ready to be planted in their new space.”

“We are in the early stages but in the last three months over 500 cartons have been stopped from going to landfill,” says Gill. “We have a commitment to help regenerate in excess of 10,000 acres, so we have plenty of opportunity to grow this initiative.”