Greens move on tyre waste, announce plans for other waste types

The Green Party Annual Conference has wound up, with the party taking steps to keep both the social wing and the environmental wing of the party happy. In a weekend where the party had to address significant concerns arising out of the mess left by Metiria Turei’s departure in 2017, a back to basics approach was announced. It would see the party return to dealing with its core issues, whilst enjoying the fruits of some significant policy wins.

In keeping with their back to basics theme, the Green Party announced moves against waste tyre dumps in New Zealand. The problem, which in June 2017 saw an announcement of investment in a tyre processing facility, is one that New Zealand has been lagging behind other countries on for awhile.

It is not the only significant announcement that was made on waste, which I personally believe rivals climate change in potential severity if not addressed, but also in terms of opportunities for clean tech and new research. It was also announced that a waste stewardship programme would be designed for a range of waste types including tyres, lithium batteries, agri-chemicals and synthetic greenhouse gases.

All of this is well and good, but a much more wide ranging approach is needed for waste across the board. Whether it is common waste such as paper, plastic, wood, glass, or more problematic waste such as chemicals, waste fuel by products, electronic waste or otherwise, a comprehensive plan is needed. I believe a national policy statement on waste management, backed by appropriate rules and objectives. Councils need to introduce bylaws that are specific to their area, and compliant with any eventual policy statement.

Mayors of city and district councils around New Zealand have registered their support for increasing the fee for dumping rubbish at landfills from $10 to $40. The only problem I have here is that this then increases the risk of illegal dumping by the few that refuse to comply with local bylaws pertaining to waste, so I wonder if that means their councils would then be prepared to more aggressively pursue those who dump wherever they can instead of using their council bins.

Maybe this will come out over the next few months with regards to waste. I certainly hope so. New Zealand needs to reduce its waste footprint in order to maintain our current environment and improve our environmental standards in the long term. The growing realization that reducing waste can involve job creation should help to soothe the fears of those who think that the ever suffering rate/taxpayer will be further encumbered with costs that they can ill afford it.

A bigger question is how willingly will consumer and industrial advocates come on board and realize it is not all a Green conspiracy against their agenda’s and profits.





Banning plastic bags tackles small part of a big problem

Yesterday the Government announced that New Zealand would phase out plastic bags within 12 months. The announcement, which was made by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Associate Minister for the Environment Eugenie Sage comes amid a growing backlash against single use plastics.

The announcement, whilst welcome is in some respects more of a feel good measure. Whilst single use plastic bags are a very visible part of the plastics problem in New Zealand, in terms of the larger waste issue, plastic bags are a relative minor issue. Paper, glass, wood, materials such as polystyrene and so forth will continue to get dumped in landfills or recycled at negligible rates. Electronic waste will continue to go into landfills at between 72,000 and 85,000 tons per annum with only 1% of that being recycled.

The announcement did not escape criticism. David Seymour, Leader of the A.C.T. Party said it would punish consumers who find the bags easy and convenient. He also attacked the lack of science qualifications held by Green Party Members of Parliament. Nor did it escape criticism from the Leader of the Opposition, Simon Bridges who likened it to low hanging fruit and that no real gains would be made. Mr Bridges claimed that the Government had bigger problems on its hands and needed to address what he called “plummeting business confidence”.

Both of these criticisms come from desperate politicians wanting to undermine something that they know will be well received by the public of New Zealand. Much has been made of the growing number of seabirds, fish and other marine life being found to have died from consuming plastics that their bodies are not able to digest. One also cannot ignore the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in the central part of the northern Pacific that has an estimated 5 trillion pieces of plastic in it. That is about 680 pieces of plastic for every single human being on the planet.

I doubt that, despite the incoming ban, plastic bags will actually be fully phased out. Several questions need to be asked – and answered about this:

  1. How will the Government deal with imported products that come in plastic bags – last time I got an electrical device there were about three small plastic bags each with a component relevant to the device. They were single use bags in that once opened there was no further use for the plastic.
  2. Will there remain drop off bins after the ban takes effect for those who have stockpiles of plastic bags? I suspect that there will always be a small number of plastic bags retained by New Zealanders and there will be people all over the country with a cupboard holding a few, just as my parents have.
  3. Businesses seem to be enthusiastic about the ban, but there will always be a few that are non-compliant. Will the Government enforce the ban somehow?

All in all, a nice feel good ban. Greenpeace and the other environmental N.G.O.’s might be happy, but the war on waste has a long way to go before it reaches anything approaching a successful conclusion.

An alternative economy?

If one has read the print media, online media or watched the television news of late, they will have seen the stories about economic gloom. The stories about trade wars being started by the United States President Donald Trump, the increasingly messy state of Brexit and so forth all raise potential “red flags”. So, what about potential “green flags” with regards to economic development?

For awhile now I have been convinced that as long as National or Labour are in office, conventional, almost tunnel vision like economics will be the serving of the day. Bland, boring, and potentially missing significant opportunities to develop a more sustainable economy without causing job losses.

I have a vision of a quite different economic direction to the one that the politicians of the last two generations have insisted on steering New Zealand through. It stems from an understanding that the current reliance on tourism, agriculture and niche industries is not sustainable. New Zealand might look relatively calm in a stormy international sea, but it ignores the fact that we are quite vulnerable for several reasons (among others):

  1. Our exports rely too heavily on a few major industries
  2. An all in trade war would be damaging for everyone and New Zealand would not be exempt
  3. Customers overseas are becoming socially conscious and starting to research the history of what their countries are importing to make sure nothing detrimental such as animal abuse, slave labour or environmental negligence was involved

New Zealand has vast opportunities before it to develop green industries, but also to smarten up existing ones as well as completely new ones. A few examples:

  • Developing mineral recycling plants to retrieve and make reusable the gold, silver, copper, etc from Waste Electrical Equipment and Electronics (W.E.E.E. – also and hereafter known as e-waste)
  • Develop medicinal cannabis products for dispensation – public support for medicinal cannabis is now very high
  • A potential biofuel stream exists, from which we could be investigating alternatives to Unleaded 91 and diesel – several years ago Kiwi Rail did a trial with a biodiesel blend; using strands of the waste stream such as cooking fat and fuel waste, green waste and so forth

Obviously feasibility studies will need to be conducted to ascertain what will work and what will not. The relevant industry groups such as Federated Farmers, Automobile Association will need to be consulted on proposals that are relevant to them. Assessments of their economic viability will need to be carried out should any of these ideas or others not listed be found to be possible in New Zealand.

With these ideas come potential challenges. Little groundwork has been done on where Waste to Energy plants could fit in the overall New Zealand energy scene. Likewise with biofuel, a failure to tackle it in 9 years of the National Government means we are about 15-20 years behind European nations such as Denmark, the United Kingdom and others. It is also true that industry figures will need to be won over and resistance is inevitable in some quarters. But all potentially visionary ideas have to start somewhere, somehow.

With regards to cannabis reform and the associated socio-economic benefits, New Zealand politicians are inching towards medicinal cannabis. There seems to be an aversion to simply getting on with developing the appropriate legal framework. This would also give known cannabis growers something legitimate to do instead of supporting the black market, something that is already starting to happen in the East Cape area.

And then there is taxation. When I was in New Zealand First at one of the Annual Conventions I attended there was a debate during policy remits about whether a Spahn tax could be employed, possibly in place of one of the existing taxes. I also noted last year when doing research for my Graduate Diploma from the Open Polytechnic, the existence of Pigouvian taxes. Would, rather than – or to complement an emissions trading scheme – a Pigouvian tax on carbon emissions be some sort of disincentive to pollute? Whilst not being an economist, and freely admitting that it is possible that none of them will work, simply knowing that such taxes exist makes me wonder if anyone has investigated their suitability in a New Zealand context.

Does economic policy really need to live within the narrow confines of raising and lowering income taxes, increasing G.S.T. every so often and continuing to try to develop industries that are nearing their peak in New Zealand? Not necessarily.

Time to be bold on fuel

When the Government made the announcement that oil and gas would be phased out in New Zealand there were a lot of incredulous people across the political spectrum. They ranged from those who hoped for that day, but were concerned that politicians would shy away from making such an announcement, to those who worked in the industry and were scared that it would mean the ends of their livelihoods. And then there were others, such as myself sit in the middle, not quite believing such a day will actually happen, and think that those in the oil and gas sector will be able to find work.

Why? Contrary to the assumptions of many, there is considerable expertise in the oil and gas sector that could be employed in other energy projects, and not just in Taranaki or Northland.

How do I believe that this can happen?

One idea that I have long liked is exploring the feasibility of creating a nation-wide biofuel programme using material from the waste stream. This is an idea that has some investment in it already – Gull uses dairy waste to create a biodiesel. It has also experimented with the waste from beer. It uses 10% bioethanol. Ethanol is a key part of the fuel in recent car types, so having a bioethanol source will help to reduce the carbon emissions from our fuel. If other companies such as B.P., Z, Caltex and Mobil were to follow the lead of Gull, scope would exist for a significant reduction in vehicle emissions from burning fuel.

New Zealand needs to be bold. Right now it is suffering from severe aversion to radical overhaul of how and what our vehicle fleet consumes in the way of fuel. Yes, the Government sees a day when New Zealand will be carbon neutral, but does not have a working blueprint to get there. Nor does it see the potential alternatives sources that biofuel – a catch all term in my opinion for all fuels with a biological base, such as waste matter – can offer.

To do this we will need infrastructure. Should a feasible type/s of biofuel be found, there needs to be a means of collecting the waste matter that would be used. Having collected, there needs to be a drop off point with storage for it near a refinery that can turn it into the appropriate product/s. To have this infrastructure work we need skilled labour and that already exists in the form of the people working on energy projects in Taranaki. The skills and knowledge required would encompass the full range of skills currently available among the workforce in Taranaki.

To do this, the Government needs to be bold and open a dialogue with the oil and gas workers in Taranaki who will otherwise think that they are going to be shafted. That should not be the case, and certainly not if we really want true energy independence without having to rely unduly on the likes of B.P., Caltex and Mobil whose interests are purely corporatized and not necessarily in the interests of New Zealand or New Zealanders.

Backtracking on fishing boat camera’s is a cop out

Minister of Fisheries, Stuart Nash is having second thoughts about installing cameras on fishing boats following criticism from the industry. His change of heart comes after a letter accusing him of reacting to hysteria is made known to the public.

This is a cop out. The fisheries industry is simply scared that the many claims of bad practices, maltreatment of staff and non-compliance with regulations around reporting catches will be found out and that they will be made to clean their act up.

It is also disappointing that a party that traditionally supports human rights is back tracking on a measure that will help stamp out the illegal practices that are known to be going on. It will help put some credibility back into an industry whose reputation is going to be tarnished by this if the minister drops the surveillance camera programme.

New Zealand cannot afford to let its reputation as the “Wild West” of the high seas continue. It erodes the confidence that international and domestic customers can have that our fish are caught properly and in compliance with best environment, labour and regulatory practices.

We are a first world country, not a third world country. We have obligations under international and domestic law that need to be upheld and which other nations can subject New Zealand to scrutiny on. Each time the United Nations send a special rapporteur over or the periodic report show casing progress and answering criticisms is delivered to the U.N. Human Rights Committee, this is something that we can be potentially challenged on.

New Zealand needs to understand that people are starting to become aware of issues with supply chains and their role at the end of those chains as consumers. This is why for example there were concerns a few years ago about live sheep exports to Saudi Arabia, a country not known for having a strong animal rights record. The concerns that the sheep would die en route and that the carcasses would be a health hazard by the time they reached a Saudi port were credible.

The same awareness is becoming true of fisheries both inside and outside of New Zealand. It is exacerbated by the fact that our fisheries have boats operating in them crewed by non-New Zealanders. They have reported on numerous occasions mistreatment, non-compliance with records and other problems. The ships captains and executive officers have been known to be hostile towards third party observers being on board.