Waste not

Some­thing only be­comes waste when we give up on find­ing a use for it.

Element - - Environment - By Andy Ken­wor­thy

The smaller pop­u­la­tions of pre-in­dus­trial times left less be­hind them than we do to­day. Be­fore we learned to trans­form nat­u­ral ma­te­ri­als into new sub­stances rarely or never seen in na­ture, most of what we chucked was read­ily biodegrad­able. But pop­u­la­tions have grown, we have cre­ated huge amounts of mind-bog­glingly com­plex ma­te­ri­als, and we now dis­card more stuff than ever be­fore. Mean­while, our ba­sic meth­ods of get­ting rid of all this have not fun­da­men­tally changed. We bury it, burn it or cast it off some­where out of sight, smell and mind. Thank­fully, we are be­com­ing aware that this just turns valu­able ma­te­ri­als into costly pol­lu­tion: waste in ev­ery sense of the word. The re­sources avail­able to us on this planet are lim­ited, and it is non­sen­si­cal to go through all the ef­fort and ex­pense of ac­cess­ing them, trans­form­ing them into prod­ucts, only to bury or burn them just a few short years later.

Can we make waste a thing of the past? Ev­ery year, New Zealan­ders toss about 2.5 mil­lion tonnes of ma­te­rial in holes carved out of our coun­try­side. That is more than a tonne per house­hold. The ma­jor­ity of this is not re­pro­cessed or re­cy­cled, and does not read­ily biode­grade. The land­fills leak the pow­er­ful green­house gas meth­ane into our at­mos­phere, and can leach a toxic cock­tail of chem­i­cals into our nat­u­ral fresh­wa­ter sup­plies.

The Waste Min­imi­sa­tion Act 2008 in­tro­duced a $10 per tonne waste levy on all ma­te­ri­als dis­posed of in land­fills was the lat­est leg­isla­tive at­tempt to get this un­der con­trol. It di­verted more than $6.5m dol­lars to new lo­cal govern­ment, com­mu­nity and busi­nesses waste re­duc­tion projects. But many felt it did not go far enough. Now much more rad­i­cal mea­sures have been put for­ward for our largest city, in the shape of the Draft Auck­land Waste Man­age­ment and Min­imi­sa­tion Plan.

The plan is am­bi­tious. The coun­cil wants to make Auck­land, which cur­rently pro­duces a third of the na­tion’s waste, into the most live­able eco city in the world, pro­duc­ing no waste at all by 2040. The fo­cus is on turn­ing more of that waste into use­ful re­sources.

The most ob­vi­ous changes will be the bins on the kerb­side and the way we pay for them to be emp­tied. The Coun­cil pro­poses to give all house­holds a wheelie bin with a choice of bin sizes from 80 litres, equal to around two rub­bish bags, to 240 litres, about six bags. The plan is that each bin will be fit­ted with an elec­tronic tag to record the num­ber of times the bin is lifted and emp­tied. The cost of each ‘lift’ will be de­ducted from your pre­paid cus­tomer ac­count with small bins cost­ing less to empty than big bins. If a bin is not put out for its fort­nightly col­lec­tion you won’t have to pay for it to be emp­tied.

The coun­cil reck­ons the changes will be phased in at around $2.50 per lift for an 80-litre bin, which equates to about $1.25 a week. Re­cy­cling, on the other hand, will be funded through rates or a flat sur­charge, so you won’t get pe­nalised if you re­cy­cle more.

Cru­cially, this means that those of us who shop more care­fully to re­duce waste and re­cy­cle as much as pos­si­ble will be re­warded with lower waste bills. It is also in­tended to steer much more of our valu­able

The plan is am­bi­tious. The coun­cil wants to make Auck­land, which cur­rently pro­duces a third of the na­tion’s waste, into the most live­able eco city in the world, pro­duc­ing no waste at all by 2040. The fo­cus is on turn­ing more of that waste into use­ful re­sources.

re­sources away from the holes in the ground and back into use.

The other big changes could be in what hap­pens to gar­den and food waste. Although com­post­ing at home is still seen as the most en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly op­tion, re­al­is­ti­cally it doesn’t fit ev­ery sit­u­a­tion, and many peo­ple are still un­will­ing or un­able to do it. In the mean­time, com­postable food scraps and gar­den waste are still find­ing their way into land­fills, where they cause additional green­house gas emis­sions and pol­lu­tion risks as it putre­fies.

To tackle this, Auck­land coun­cil’s pro­pos­als in­clude the pro­vi­sion of a small weekly or­ganic waste bin to take house­hold food scraps and pos­si­bly some gar­den waste. To­day about 80,000 Auck­lan­ders use gar­den bag col­lec­tion ser­vices, most of which finds it way to Liv­ing Earth, New Zealand’s largest com­mer­cial com­post­ing firm.

The com­pany con­verts food and gar­den waste into an ever-in­creas­ing range of care­fully de­signed soil en­rich­ing com­posts which are sold to gar­den­ers, farm­ers and wine grow­ers across the coun­try.

The firm has al­ready es­tab­lished one of Aus­trala­sia’s largest com­post­ing plants for food and gar­den waste in Christchurch, deal­ing with 80,000 tonnes of ma­te­rial a year col­lected via a green bin ser­vice to ev­ery res­i­dent, and it is bound to be in the run­ning for sim­i­larly large scale projects in line with Auck­land’s new ap­proach.

Rob Fen­wick co-founded the com­pany and is chair­man of the Min­is­te­rial Waste Ad­vi­sory Board.

“It’s a good plan and it might be one of the big achieve­ments of the su­per city be­cause it was im­pos­si­ble to get a sin­gle co­he­sive waste plan be­tween the seven coun­cils we had be­fore,” he says. “The key el­e­ments to the plan are pol­luter pays and a food waste col­lec­tion ser­vice for

War­ren Snow of En­vi­sion.

Photo: Adrian Mal­loch

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