Element - - Waste Champions - By Dr Rosie Bos­worth

For a coun­try that prides it­self on be­ing “clean and green”, New Zealand’s track record on waste is pretty rot­ten. We rank poorly in the OECD when it comes to both pro­gres­sive waste poli­cies and the en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact of our waste.

Ac­cord­ing to Paul Evans, CEO of WasteMINZ, the largest rep­re­sen­ta­tive body of New Zealand’s waste and re­source re­cov­ery sec­tors, the chal­lenges hin­der­ing our waste in­dus­try per­for­mance are three­fold.

The first – ex­ces­sive lev­els of ed­i­ble food en­ter­ing the waste-stream. It’s an in­creas­ingly top­i­cal is­sue, par­tic­u­larly as food se­cu­rity has be­come ever more shaky world­wide and as in­creas­ing num­bers of un­der­priv­i­leged Kiwi kids are start­ing their school day on empty tum­mies.

Re­cent stud­ies by WasteMINZ found that 79 ki­los of per­fectly good food is thrown out by the av­er­age Kiwi house­hold each year, cost­ing the fam­ily $563. That’s $872 mil­lion of oth­er­wise ed­i­ble food na­tion­ally go­ing into the bin. Adding the InSinkEra­tor scraps, this fig­ure rises to close to a bil­lion dol­lars.

From an en­vi­ron­men­tal stand­point the em­bed­ded energy use to pro­duce wasted food is huge. More than 130,000 trees worth of CO2, or 118,000 an­nual cars on the roads, says Evans.

Fur­ther, not all New Zealand land­fills are cre­ated equal. While Auck­land has many A-grade land­fills sites with world-class prac­tices that cap­ture meth­ane and gen­er­ate elec­tric­ity, our plan­ning laws and lack of strin­gent waste levies at most dis­posal fa­cil­i­ties have al­lowed other en­vi­ron­men­tally haz­ardous fills (of­ten termed clean or man­aged fills) to pro­lif­er­ate. In­dus­try and house­holds cur­rently have free reign over how much and how they dis­pose of waste - and prac­ti­cally for free. Re­search into ru­ral waste re­cently re­vealed that nearly 24 tonnes of waste is pro­duced an­nu­ally per farm, in­clud­ing non-nat­u­ral, or­ganic and do­mes­tic waste. In 2012/2013 this roughly equated to the amount of waste sent to land­fill by Christchurch city. Nearly all of this is buried or burnt, pol­lut­ing the land and per­me­at­ing into wa­ter ta­bles. “Tonnes of build­ing de­mo­li­tion and con­struc­tion ma­te­ri­als, agri­cul­tural and toxic e-waste just get thrown into a hole in a ground, or get burnt. It’s not only a sig­nif­i­cant risk to hu­man health and en­vi­ron­ment but to­tally at odds with New Zealand’s clean and green im­age”.

Fur­ther taint­ing our waste record is the lack of prod­uct stew­ard­ship and ex­tended pro­ducer re­spon­si­bil­ity, says Evans. He says more thought is needed fur­ther up the waste hi­er­ar­chy, around the way prod­ucts are de­signed and man­u­fac­tured – par­tic­u­larly in the agro­chem­i­cal and pack­ag­ing in­dus­tries. “From the prod­uct de­sign phase, how and what prod­ucts are made of, to prod­uct take­back laws, New Zealand’s Waste Min­imi­sa­tion Act is far too re­laxed. More work is needed to en­sure brands and man­u­fac­tur­ers are re­spon­si­ble for these prod­ucts at the end of life and fund­ing for the dis­posal and/or re­cy­cling of these prod­ucts.”

Says Evans; the bulk of NZ’s waste ini­tia­tives are vol­un­teer-based. “We need some lead­er­ship from the gov­ern­ment. The gov­ern­ment needs to send some strong mes­sages about waste, prod­uct de­sign and end-of-life and how this is funded. We have de­vel­oped path­ways through leg­is­la­tion but there is re­ally no rea­son for man­u­fac­tur­ers to en­gage with it.” While the vol­un­tary ap­proach is al­ways the first pre­ferred op­tion, Evans says where there are clear mar­ket fail­ures sen­si­ble sup­port and reg­u­la­tion from the gov­ern­ment is nec­es­sary. “There’s noth­ing that makes in­dus­try move more quickly than the “threat” of ad­di­tional reg­u­la­tion – par­tic­u­larly when you want to cre­ate sig­nif­i­cant change.”

Photo: Ted Baghurst

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