Waste to Wilderness — Wilding & Co. rewild the environment

QUEENSTOWN, AOTEAROA. What do wooden pallets, leftover from the construction industry, commercial food waste, and wilding pines have in common? They are the building blocks for our innovative and highly sustainable approach to reintroducing vital biodiversity to our environment.

The pallets form the basis of a modular planting system. They are planted with ‘pods’ of self-seeded natives, in a rich mix of compost from commercial food waste and green carbon waste from distilled wilding pines. The modules can be easily transported to their chosen location — where they are left to grow undisturbed. Each pallet is an ecosystem in miniature — providing just the right conditions for strong, biologically diverse plantings to flourish, just as nature intended.

We are learning more all the time about how critical biodiversity is to the continued existence of our natural world. Western farming and landscaping practices have greatly reduced biodiversity in our wilderness areas over many hundreds of years. But, the reintroduction of native plant species into cultivated areas is tricky: many of our native plant species are very susceptible to failure during replanting, and this makes traditional nursery-grown planting expensive and unreliable.

This is where Waste to Wilderness comes in: not only is it a highly sustainable model — it is easy, cheap, and effective.

Carbon colonisation of plants and a need for change

We believe humanity has become focused on the value of carbon at the expense of the natural diverse spectrums of plants found in healthy ecological systems.

Historically with the industrialisation of England, it became a popular status symbol to plant large gardens and landscapes with no food production capabilities as a sign of wealth.

The wealthy could afford to buy all their food and thus had no need for the peasant’s vegetable gardens, fruiting trees or wilderness for the hunting of animals.

This status-driven, gentrified landscape styling and plant choice then colonised the urban architecture of the western world, until today.

In the 21st century, this environmental segregation has expanded further into the ‘carbonisation’ of plants, making only massive monocultures of high carbon-sequestering trees ‘valuable’.

Waste to Wilderness (W2W) looks to re-focus our collective attention and once again value the development of diverse healthy ecologies, like those already nurtured by indigenous cultures around the world — those who live in harmony with their wilderness.

Barriers to a more diverse ecology

Using the current nursery-based planting systems, it is difficult to provide a broad-spectrum ecosystem of plants. The risk and costs of non-germination and complexity of managing multiple species make this model unviable. As a result, most nurseries focus on monoculture planting.

Many native plants are very susceptible to failure either during the replanting steps in nursery environments or due to environmental stresses and competition at the final planting site.

Combine this cost and complexity with an embedded mindset and value system that focuses on certain specimen trees, and you have the foundation of limited diversity in reforestation efforts.

Natural colonisation and succession

W2W works through the philosophies of natural selection and stewardship.

Healthy natural ecosystems have a cyclic relationship between the mature canopy and its seedling understory. Millions of seedlings sit in wait for the mature canopy to age and fall, while other plants are symbiotic with the mature canopy.

When a tree falls you have the burst of sunlight that allows fast-growing colonisers to protect the exposed sub-canopy and soils, then the process of natural selection begins where the fast-growing succession species are slowly overtaken by a few larger trees that, over time, replace the fallen high canopy trees. The cycle then repeats.

‘Scatter effect’

The initial goal of W2W is the ‘scatter effect’, where pockets of biological diversity are established alongside road networks, paper roads, railways, cycleways and pathways. These checker-board patterns of Eco Pallets will mature over time, generating their own mature forest edge and continuing the process of self-seeding into the surrounding landscape.

W2W working model

It may take tens or even hundreds of years for mature canopies to be disrupted enough to let the succession model start in a forest, and for seedlings to repopulate a disrupted environment. As nature does not know when a canopy will be disrupted, millions of seedlings cover the forest floor in wait for this unknown event.

The majority of forest floor seedlings and seeds lying in wait are lost to time. This means the forest floor can provide an infinite, diverse seedling supply for the W2W reforestation process.

Forest stewardship and positive human intervention

Our role is to enter the mature stands of natural forest and take thousands of forest floor ‘biopsy pods’ for replanting in our Eco Pallets. Each of these 10cm3 earth pods contains an unknown spectrum of seedlings, seeds, fungi, microhorizons, leaf litter and insects.

Ten 10cm3 ecology pods are then planted into a larger nutrient-rich 1m2 Eco Pallet planting module.

Via human intervention, we are able to stimulate the speed in which seedlings that may have never survived reach maturity, access nutrients, sun and space.

The diverse 1m2 Ecological Pallet Modules are then ready to be transported, as a complete ecosystem, to the desired planting location — without any disruption to plants throughout the nurturing and ultimate planting process.

Let nature do its thing

Over time, the natural succession of the seedlings in the Eco Pallet will play itself out.

Firstly, the faster-growing ‘disturbance’ succession species will quickly overtake the 1m2 area, generating a first stage protective canopy. This safe environment allows more fragile large canopy tree species to stay in a healthy nursery environment until the first stage canopy reaches maximum maturity. At this stage, the canopy breaks apart, allowing light into the protected ground canopy where the larger canopy trees lie in wait to extend upwards.

Understanding and valuing the outcomes of Waste to Wilderness

W2W supports natural selection. In each square metre of ecological space, the final mature ecological state is unknown at the point of planting. It may be a tree, several shrubs or even a large fern that thrives in any specific pallet module.

The critical goal is speeding up the expansion of a diverse native ecosystem, beyond existing wilderness environments — many of which are confined and under threat.

Over time, just as the wilderness provided to our forefathers, W2W will provide a peaceful protective environment experience, trees that can be selectively felled for wood, fruit-bearing plants for wild harvest, a greater range of birds and animals and plants that have medicinal or culinary uses.

What makes Waste to Wilderness so effective?

Waste stream integration

We use the commercial value of waste collection models to source and fund the collection of energy and structural resources required for the square metre pellet module. This is restaurant food waste (nutrients), property green waste (carbon) and wood transport pallets (the Eco Pallets movable structural platform).

Using the diversity of Nature itself

All the processes of seedling germination and natural selection happen within the wilderness environments themselves. This removes the cost and uncertainty of nursery germination processes and the costs involved in labour, land and storage.

There is a site silviculture licence to support the seedling germination environment, i.e. pest removal, and other supportive measures to increase ongoing seedling germination.

One-step care

Once the wilderness seedling pods are planted in the transportable Ecological Pallets, there are no more handling steps for plant care. The seedlings start to spread their roots throughout the square metre pallet module, which can then be transported at any time to its final planting destination.

No-dig planting

The Ecological Pallet modules are easy to transport, en masse, to their final destination. They can be quickly positioned and planted by one or two people with the help of a tractor. There is no digging of the soil; the Ecological Pallet is simply placed on the surface on top of whatever grasses or pastoral weeds exist in the location. The seedlings will then root through from the Ecological Pallet and the no-dig composting pasture layer into the undisturbed — and therefore healthier — soils below, reaching more nutrients and deeper water supplies, enabling maximum growth long term.

Reduced or no watering

The 10–20cm depth of pallet humus acts as a great water retention system. Unlike a single plant placed in the bare earth, the Ecological Pallet planting system comes with its own inbuilt soil protection and water retention system.

No weeding

The Ecological Pallets have a dense woody humus layer and wilderness leaf litter layer that is far less susceptible to pasture weeds, compared to the exposed soils found with single planting models.

No poison

The square metre Eco Pallet also greatly reduces — and likely fully removes — any need for poisons like glycol sulphate (Round Up, or worse … Tordon) to be used around the plants, once planted, to ensure they are not overtaken by exotic grasses or other weeds.

‘Guaranteed’ strike rate

A significant risk of ‘single-plant plantings’ is the risk of plant death and loss of investment. The Ecological Pallet ensures a stable and undisturbed root system and the supply of all supportive fungi and microhorizons required for root nutrient uptake. The humus layer is full of worms and insects that help with decomposition and release of nutrients. There are up to 100 seedlings per square metre, so via natural selection, there is a very high chance of generating a diverse and naturally dense wilding ecological landscape.


W2W uses waste streams which are readily available from urban environments the world over, meaning the model could be introduced anywhere in the world.

Easy to understand

The methodology of plant rearing, planting and ongoing plant care have all been simplified into an easy-to-understand process. Not only can a broad range of people and organisations adopt the W2W Eco Pallet system, but it can be a valuable ‘plugin’ to existing operations to utilise waste streams, unused equipment (like tractors) out of harvest season, or back-hauling empty trucks requiring freight.


By tracking each pallet’s movement, in a similar fashion to tracking freight, people can follow the W2W Eco Pallets process from establishment, to transport, to its final specific planting location. This traceability can add additional value streams of carbon, blockchain and ecological value metrics to fund projects.

Significant cost savings

The combination of these simple unique factors allow us to provide plants at a cost that is up to ten times less than a single nursery seedling. Because nursery seedlings are grown to planting age via multiple handling steps, and then planted with a relatively complex ongoing plant growth and (toxic) weed management plan.


Please contact Michael Sly — michael@wilding.co or call on +64 21 539 811

The Wilding & Co team is often asked about how to use essential oil. So we thought we’d explain what essential oil and how you can use it.

What is essential oil?
An essential oil is a concentrated hydrophobic liquid containing volatile aroma compounds from plants. An oil is “essential” in the sense that it contains the “essence of” the plant’s fragrance and can have other qualities, such as healing or anti-bacterial properties.

Wilding & Co produces the world’s finest Douglas fir essential oil, among other high-quality conifer oils, and is the only known company in the world producing essential oil from wilding pine trees.

How do you use essential oil?
Wilding & Co Douglas fir pine essential oil is an invigorating fragrance to freshen the home.

Personal use*:

  • Drop 4 to 6 drops in a warm running bath.
  • Our pure essential oil can be used as an ingredient in homemade cleaning products too—find out more.

There are many uses for the essential oil in your home—here are a few to get you started.

  • Use an oil burner (either neat or diluted with a carrier oil such as sweet almond oil) to refresh any room of the home and disperse pet odours.
  • Use a few drops with your normal liquid laundry detergent for fresh clothes.
  • Mix 10 drops into a cup of warm water and mist over household carpets to freshen.
  • Spray, diluted (25–50:1), oil onto dog bedding as flea treatment (do not use for cats).


Wilding & Co has been awarded their second Contact Energy Milestone Award, of ‘Most Improved Team’ at the Ākina Launchpad programme.

The award recognises Wilding & Co’s progress in achieving their business goals and objectives within the Launchpad programme. In this instance, Wilding & Co has built a relationship with an international customer that can consume enough oil to match the size of the wilding problem in New Zealand.

It’s a terrific symbiotic relationship that will help propel Wilding & Co into a position of making real impact over several years. Tina Porou, co-judge and head of communications and sustainability at Contact Energy said, “Wilding & Co has shown clear commitment to addressing the environmental impact of wilding pines. The team believe that producing essential oils in bulk quantities is the only way to match their intervention with the size of the problem caused by wilding pines in New Zealand. This is where the team’s passion lies.”

Launchpad Most Improved Award.

Wilding & Co harvests young wilding pines, which have a devastating effect on New Zealand’s natural environment, and turns them into high-value essential oils which can be used in consumer products. Wilding & Co sells essential oils and other consumer products on a small scale both locally and online.

“We are extremely proud of Wilding & Co’s achievements, and congratulate the team on their successes,” Tina said.

The Launchpad programme has been running for 5 months, and will conclude in March 2015 with the final Contact Energy award, of The People’s Choice, that will attract a cash prize of $20,000 to the most popular team, as voted by the public.

December 2014 saw the inaugural launch of the new Wilding Pine soda syrup, made in collaboration by Six Barrel Soda Co and Wilding & Co.
While it may not be the flavour that immediately jumps to mind when one is thinking of a ice-cold summer beverage, the unique flavour sensation was met with shouts of excitement and unabandoned glee by many, and sold out, twice, within days.

Six Barrel Soda Co. grew from a love of classic sodas and soda fountain culture. “We make our sodas and soda syrups in our Wellington kitchen the old fashioned way from real ingredients. The colours & flavours come from the natural ingredients, we’re drink makers, not chemists” says Six Barrel owner and soda enthusiast, Michael Stewart.

The early summer buds gathered by Wilding & Co’s directors, Mike Sly and Mathurin Molgat were hand picked in Queenstown, and then brought to Wellington in a very aromatic suitcase. The skilled craftsmen at Six Barrel Soda Co. soon had the harvest of budding needles macerated, boiled down and bottled, ready to be poured and enjoyed (tall glass, plenty of ice, slice of cucumber if you don’t mind).

Due to the short season of new, sticky pine buds being available, the Wilding Pine soda was a very limited edition and is no longer on sale. However, both businesses are looking forward to collaborating again in December 2015 and producing another run of the quirky drink.

“We cover a lot of business stories here at Idealog, so as a wrap of the year, we decided to trawl back through our 2014 print and web archives and dig out our picks for the coolest, most innovative New Zealand companies of the year.”

Wilding & Co.

“How do you create an environmentally friendly business by killing and using unwanted pine trees? You create a process that chops them down and turns them into some of the world’s best oil to be used for high quality perfumes, oils and anti-bacterial cleaning products. Michael Sly, Mathurin Molgat and Dave Turnbull are making use of the 800,000 or so hectares of rogue wilding pine trees in Central Otago, and thereby keeping the invasive pine pests from taking over tussock land.” Read the Idealog blog article about Wilding & Co.

(Top 10 of 2014 continues…)

By ELLY STRANG, Idealog, 

Read the full article on Idealog

Taking an environmental problem and turning it into a commercial success has seen Queenstown social enterprise team Wilding & Co awarded with the ‘most innovative idea’, the first of three $1000 milestone awards from Contact Energy, co-principal partner of Akina Foundation’s six-month accelerator programme, Launchpad.

Sponsored by Contact Energy, Launchpad runs until March 2015.

Over the six-month programme, Contact is sponsoring three $1000 milestone awards – the most innovative idea; best community engagement; and most improved enterprise – as well as a $20,000 People’s Choice award, voted for by Element readers.


7:05 AM Monday Nov 24, 2014, Element Magazine, NZ Herald

Read the full article on the NZ Herald

Turning an environmental problem into a commercial success, Wilding & Co clears and controls the spread of wilding pines in Central Otago, and distils them into essential oils.

Wilding pines, a native of North America, are strangling New Zealand’s natural environment and grow at the rate of twenty times faster than in their native homeland.

Moreover, the spray used to control the spread of these invasive unwanted trees is toxic in itself making for a double whammy cause for concern. The Wilding team have developed a socially minded business model that harvests young wildings, and transforms them into high-value essential oils used in fragrances and other consumer products for the perfume, essential oil and anti-bacterial cleaning products industries.


3:33 PM Friday Oct 17, 2014, Element Magazine, NZ Herald

Read the full article on the NZ Herald

For years, Michael Sly brewed a variety of fragrances from New Zealand’s diverse, native flora. Today, he distills aromatic oil from just one: wilding pine trees, an invasive tree species that plagues the country’s natural environment. In the last century, they’ve taken over much of New Zealand’s South Island — so much so that the country’s citizens are being taxed millions of dollars to eradicate them.

To combat this, Michael Sly created Wilding & Co with Mathurin Molgat. Together, they believe their company can eliminate the destructive trees and boost the economy in the process.


By Scott Pierce –11:15 AM October 25th, 2014

Read the full article on the collectively.org

A pair of Queenstown neighbours aiming to transform the perception of invasive wilding pine trees, from pest to commodity, say they have been overwhelmed by the demand for their product.

Mathurin Molgat and Michael Sly have spent the last three years refining a range of essential oils extracted from Queenstown’s wilding pine – the name given to pine trees that spring up uninvited.

The pair formed Wilding and Co in April 2013 with another friend Dave Turnbull in what Molgat says is, “a professional formulation of our vision and ideas”.

The ex-professional skier and environmental film-maker says spraying wilding pines with herbicides doesn’t sit well with his environmental ethics.


By Amelia Reynolds – 11:00 AM Tuesday Oct 7, 2014

Read the full article on the NZ Herald site

Wilding & Co is one of 11 teams selected to participate in the Akina Foundation Launchpad programme. The Launchpad is a social enterprise incubator primarily supported by Contact Energy, Department of Internal Affairs and the Akina Foundation. The intensive 6-month programme is designed to get social enterprise ideas off the ground and ready to create meaningful change for New Zealand communities.

The 11 teams selected for the programme are based across the country, stretching from Kaikohe to Queenstown—and hail from a variety of backgrounds and professions. They are a mixture of students, recent graduates, professionals, and people like the Wilding & Co team who are developing start-ups in their spare time while also working.

The Wilding & Co team are totally thrilled to be invited to participate in the programme. Dave Turnbull, founding director, says “it’s great to be in the company of other people involved in, and interested in developing social enterprise—it’s a tough slog, so being inspired and supported by other people who recognise the value of giving back to the community while also creating a sustainable business is great”.

The Launchpad will provide Wilding & Co with the business mentoring and support required to get the business into an investor ready format—and with national and international interest in the business growing—the opportunity has come at just the right time. The programme concludes in March 2015 with an event that will provide the Wilding & Co team access to pitch to funders and impact investors—a la Dragon’s Den.

The Akina Foundation was “blown away by the variety of ideas and the passion and commitment from the 134 teams who applied—we were also really excited about the number of applications—it demonstrates how many people in New Zealand want to create positive change through innovation and entrepreneurship but need the right support to reach their potential.”

Some interesting facts supplied by the Akina Foundation:

  • Nearly half (46%) of the Launchpad teams are building social enterprises that focus on health and social care challenges within our communities.
  • 46% of the teams are exploring solutions to environmental and recycling challenges within their business ideas.
  • 46% of the teams are working on enterprises that incorporate digital, media or technology solutions.
  • Over a third of the teams (36%) are developing enterprises that encompass a training and employment component.
  • 27% of the teams have a youth and education angle within their enterprise.
  • Two teams out of eleven have strong community development and regeneration angles to their enterprise.
  • There are also teams exploring enterprises that tackle issues within the housing sector, the leisure, sports, arts and culture sector, and the food and agriculture sector.

Want to know more about the other 10 teams chosen to participate in the Akina Foundation Launchpad programme? Read all about the 11 teams here after you’ve purchased some oil here. Thanks!