Element - - Waste Champions - MATTEW LUXON By Dr Rosie Bos­worth

The Luxon broth­ers are mak­ing their mark on the fu­ture sus­tain­abil­ity of New Zealand. While Christo­pher Luxon, head of Air New Zealand, this month re­leased a new and open­source Sup­plier Code of Con­duct, brother Matthew con­tin­ues to spear­head the move­ment to­wards zero waste here in New Zealand.

Matthew Luxon’s jour­ney into the world of zero waste be­gan in 2007 when he and his wife Waver­ley Warth were liv­ing in Toronto. “At the time the city was send­ing it by truck into Michigan. We were stunned by how lit­tle dis­cus­sion there was around min­imis­ing this waste. All the talk was around the tech­ni­cal so­lu­tions but none around be­havioural change so­lu­tions or the so­cial is­sues of waste.”

When the cou­ple re­turned to New Zealand in 2008 they set them­selves a per­sonal chal­lenge: to pro­duce less than one coun­cil rub­bish bag of waste. In a year. They ended up with less. One su­per­mar­ket bag. Weigh­ing just two kilo­grams. “We didn’t know any­thing, we weren’t gree­nies, we knew noth­ing about the waste in­dus­try.”

Eight years on, the cou­ple still live rub­bish-free and both are in­volved in waste in one way or another . Luxon’s Zero Waste con­sul­tancy, En­vi­sion, works with busi­ness and lo­cal author­i­ties to de­velop sys­tems and ini­tia­tives that re­duce waste and cre­ate so­cial ben­e­fits for com­mu­ni­ties. He also works with so­cial and com­mu­nity en­ter­prises es­tab­lish­ing or ex­pand­ing ser­vices in re­source re­cov­ery. “Our main fo­cus is so­cial and com­mu­nity en­ter­prise and waste is a fan­tas­tic ve­hi­cle for de­vel­op­ing en­ter­prises in that area.”

Luxon be­lieves too much fo­cus is placed on the tech­ni­cal as­pects of deal­ing with waste – re­cy­cling and how to di­vert waste from land­fill – and not enough on is­sues fur­ther up the pipe like im­prov­ing de­sign or de­mand­ing mean­ing­ful prod­uct stew­ard­ship. “We’re tow­ing an un­bal­anced load. Big box re­tail­ers keep im­port­ing vast amounts of ma­te­rial, which in a short time are des­tined for land­fill. There’s no con­sid­er­a­tion of what hap­pens to those items post con­sumer. The waste keeps com­ing while we’re all work­ing out how to re­cy­cle it.” He also thinks the New Zealand public ex­pects lo­cal author­i­ties and the waste re­cov­ery in­dus­try to deal with all the ma­te­ri­als and items they had no role in cre­at­ing or de­cid­ing to bring to mar­ket in the first place. “If we are re­ally go­ing to have a cir­cu­lar econ­omy we need to be de­sign­ing for re-use and end-of-life.”

For Luxon the big­gest is­sue sur­round­ing waste is not a lack of reg­u­la­tion, but rather the lack of po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ship and courage at a na­tional level to pull the levers al­ready avail­able. “By drag­ging their feet on mean­ing­ful in­ter­ven­tion, cen­tral gov­ern­ment makes things more dif­fi­cult for re­cy­clers and cre­ates op­por­tu­nity for stop-gap mea­sures that are not as ef­fec­tive as they could be.” Luxon cites gov­ern­ment-funded tri­als for re­duc­ing soft plas­tics as an ex­am­ple. “It seems crazy that taxpayers are fund­ing the pack­ag­ing in­dus­try to de­velop a so­lu­tion to a prob­lem their mem­bers cre­ated. You’ve got pro­gres­sive re­gions like South Aus­tralia and San Fran­cisco who’ve banned plas­tic bags and see­ing dra­matic re­sults. Mean­while we are pussy­foot­ing around with lit­tle tri­als funded by us.”

The way for­ward ac­cord­ing to Luxon? En­forc­ing manda­tory prod­uct stew­ard­ship schemes for pri­or­ity prod­ucts, an in­tro­duc­tion of con­tainer de­posit schemes (CDL) and higher and more wide­spread waste levies on land­fills. “The mech­a­nisms for prod­uct take-back schemes are there. We could do it on TVs, on tyres, mat­tresses. There’s just a re­luc­tance to do it. The tyre in­dus­try na­tion­ally has been cry­ing out for manda­tory prod­uct stew­ard­ship with its Tyre­wise pro­gramme, but the Min­istry for the En­vi­ron­ment keeps telling ev­ery­one they have other pri­or­i­ties and won’t be do­ing any­thing with tyres.” A big blow for in­dus­try and the en­vi­ron­ment since over 4m tyres an­nu­ally are dumped that could be reused or up­cy­cled more mind­fully.

Fur­ther, re­gions in­clud­ing South Aus­tralia, North­ern Ter­ri­to­ries, Nova Sco­tia and Oslo are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing vast waste and eco­nomic ben­e­fits with con­tainer de­posit schemes for bev­er­age bot­tles. “There’s great ev­i­dence in­ter­na­tion­ally that it works,” says Luxon. “In New Zealand we’ve es­ti­mated that if we brought one in we’d cre­ate 2400 new jobs and it would save $26m an­nu­ally on the cost of land­fill­ing all the bev­er­age con­tain­ers cur­rently go­ing to land­fill.”

For Luxon, the real waste he­roes are the com­mu­nity re­cy­cling oper­a­tions and en­ter­prise and in­di­vid­u­als en­gaged in up-cy­cling ini­tia­tives. “Not only do they have the chal­lenges of a stan­dard busi­ness, but they add to that chal­lenge by in­sist­ing on cre­at­ing so­cial good; great prod­uct, cre­at­ing jobs, ad­vo­cat­ing for change, in­no­va­tors, em­pow­er­ing.”

As for the in­di­vid­u­als? Push­ing the fo­cus up the waste hi­er­ar­chy is key. And three sim­ple, yet very pro­found ac­tions: Re­duce, re­use, re­cy­cle. “Make it hard to throw rub­bish away, put the bin in the garage. Get in­formed and make per­sonal de­ci­sions on these.”

Photo: Ted Baghurst

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