Just over a year ago I mentioned the decision by China to stop taking New Zealand waste, which was valued at over N.Z.$21 million per annum. It jolted people into realizing that we cannot and should not expect other nations to take our waste, or that we somehow have the right to shirk our responsibility to the environment. A year later, with an escalating push to remove single use plastics from our society, it is time to examine where else there has been progress made.
The drive to get single use plastics out of New Zealand stores is just a small part of what should be a much larger campaign. Much plastic waste such as the bags that components such as headphones, computer mouses and so forth come in, are plastic designs that simply get ripped open and are not usable again. Bubble wrap is another source, though if not torn it can be reused.
Cardboard and paper are major sources of waste, though perhaps one of the better known sources of recycling successes historically has been aluminium. When I was a child in the 1980’s and early 1990’s, there was an aluminium recycling programme. It simply relied on people collecting all of the aluminium they used and transporting it to a recycling drop off point, at which they were paid by the kilogramme. Unfortunately there was a collapse in the price of aluminium which made the programme uneconomic to continue. Having seen its success, this is one that I believe would be welcome to return. Aluminium production is hugely energy intensive and the New Zealand smelter at Tiwai Point requires 570 megawatts of electricity to operate.
From conversations I have had recently with Environment Canterbury (Canterbury Regional Council)and Christchurch City Council, there is a need for more Ministry for Environment leadership in terms of giving direction. Before that happens though, there needs to be an increase in internal resourcing at Ministry for Environment, whose website has a lot of information on it, but which in many cases has not been updated or reorganized for several years and is now dated. The reasons for saying this are because there was a distinct lack of direction on waste management under the previous Government, and during that time other countries noticed a decline in our performance as an environmentally responsible nation.
The conversations with ECan and Christchurch City Council revolved around electronic waste, which continues to be one of the lesser known, but rapidly growing waste sources. Earlier articles published here indicate the depth of the problem and some of the potential solutions. Both councils were in agreement that it is a major and growing problem. They had concerns though about how easily waste could be recycled given the costs of transporting and processing, how to dispose of the more toxic substances such as cadmium from the cadmium nickel batteries that are now found in a lot of devices.
There are some positive, albeit relatively small scale, projects happening such as the Queenstown Airport runway and apron resurfacing, which is using a composite mix of waste printer toner and recycled glass. Others include a tyre recycling project at Rolleston which will involve the construction of a plant that manufactures diesel from the roughly 1.5 million waste tyres around New Zealand. It would eventually become the processing centre for tyres from around the country.