THE RUBBISH-FREE CHAMPION
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.”