Farmers burying toxic waste on their land?


It appears that large numbers of farmers may be inappropriately burying or otherwise disposing of toxic waste on their land.

According to a representative from Greater Wellington Regional Council, that the disposal of substances on farms is a permitted activity. The representative admitted that councils lack the resources to monitor permitted activities. That raises a question about the suitability of the “permitted” classification for such an activity. Six such classifications exist under the Resource Management Act:

  • Permitted. No resource consent or other permission required from a consenting authority
  • Controlled. An applicant must notify the council of a proposed activity, but the council must grant permission
  • Restricted discretionary. A consenting council shall restrict the exercising of its discretion to those aspects stated if it grants resource consent.
  • Discretionary. No restriction on the council’s ability to use its discretion.
  • Non-Complying. A council may only grant consent if it is satisfied that the effects of proposed activities will be minor or the activity is not contrary to the policies and objectives of any relevant plan.
  • Prohibited. A resource consent or other permission cannot sought, and nor can it be granted.

Due to the toxic nature of a lot of the items being dumped, I would have thought that it would have a discretionary or restricted discretionary classification as an activity.

I am surprised that after 25 years of the Resource Management Act that no specific requirements to minimise waste and purposefully encourage the management of waste to adhere to Section 5 of the Act. I am also surprised that despite growing public awareness of the problem, councils do not seem to be giving the dumping of waste and waste as a general issue the level of attention that one would expect in a country that prides itself on being clean and green.

It is media coverage like this that encourages me to not only push on with my petition to reduce waste in New Zealand but also to encourage a conversation to start about our overall sustainability. In a year where nations and their civil populations seem to be waking up to the damage that plastic causes it is high time we took our own waste management seriously.

Time for coastal planners to take climate change seriously


For the people trying to get away from Ex-Tropical Cyclone Fehi’s storm surge, it was all too real. For the people in small coastal towns along the West Coast watching the angry seas smashing what in some cases were the only roads in and out of their townships, the thoughts of being cut off must have been nerve wracking. As communities clean up and look to the future, it is time to ask just how good are the contingency plans for future storms, and whether planners have made adequate provision for such events.

Given that high intensity but relatively short duration storm events seem to be becoming a regular occurrence, how well prepared are we for the effects of climate change on the marine environment including how oceans contribute to storms? In January 2017, we had a “weather bomb” of highly damaging winds and substantial heavy rain in the Southern Alps; Cyclone Debbie, which caused widespread flooding in the Bay of Plenty; Cyclone Cook, which tracked quite quickly past New Zealand, without directly crossing the country. There was also several significant winter storms.

There were a number of facets of ex-Tropical Cyclone Fehi that I found concerning as someone who has studied natural hazards:

  1. Granted it was only a Category 1 Tropical Cyclone, Fehi’s relatively rapid evolution from a tropical depression in the Coral Sea to a
  2. Despite having lost its status as a Tropical Cyclone, the remnants of Fehi still managed to kick up 150km/h winds. It still managed to drop over 200mm of rain in a day and in some cases up to nearly 300mm
  3. The storm surge – granted it was exacerbated by king tides caused by a rare blue super moon – was punishing in many small settlements such as Ngakawau, Granity and Hector on the West Coast, north of Westport

It is true that councils have started planning for climate change on the coastal environment and the elevated risk posed by storms. Some communities are having to turn to their ratepayer base for more money to help fund expensive coastal works, such as sea walls and helping maintain existing natural features such as sand dunes.

Over the last 20 or so years I have been watching the tidal gauge charts at Lyttelton that have been appearing in The Press. 20 years ago, the lower end of the range was 0.1m and the top end of the range seemed to be consistently around 2.5 metres on king tides. Outside of that, the range could be as small as 0.5m-2.0m. Today in 2018, the range seems to be between 0.1m-2.7m. I am not necessarily suggesting this is due to changes in sea level – it could simply be that the tidal gauges today are better calibrated to detect more minute changes, and thus 0.1m-2.7m +/- all along.

This is important to know because hazard planners plan for the worst case scenario – and hope that reality is something a bit less severe. The worst case scenario would presumably be a storm – not necessarily a tropical cyclone, as a deep low pressure system with its origins in the Southern Ocean can cause much damage – with a surge, coinciding with king tides. Such a storm happened last week.

Moving forward, the damage caused by Fehi, aside from causing insurance companies and Civil Defence much grief, also kick up some serious planning issues. Are, for example, Regional Plans adequately tooled to deal with land zoning issues that may arise from coastal properties no longer being suitable for occupation? Does the New Zealand Coastal Policy Statement pay the due regard now needed to coastal hazards and climate change? And given Fehi could have been a stronger Cyclone, but mercifully was not, was what happened last week really a taste of the “worst case” scenario?

It is time to start asking and attempting to answer these questions.

 

Petition to Minister for Environment (Eugenie Sage)


At the start of this year a Chinese decision to bar the importation of New Zealand waste took effect. New Zealanders have one of the highest rates of waste creation in the world and a relatively mediocre recycling record to boot.

As a result of that, I started looking at ways of reducing the waste winding up in New Zealand land fills. I was interested in a number of issues, not least:

  1. Any unnecessary council obstruction to waste reduction measures
  2. The functionality in the second decade of this century a modest 2002 waste management strategy and the 2008 legislation called the Waste Minimisation Act, 2008
  3. What economic gains could be had from reducing waste
  4. What environmental gains could be had from reducing waste

I was not sure how I might get public attention to bear on this issue. Simply writing a blog article and linking to a petition run by somebody else might or might not work. “Might” or “Might not” was not good enough for me. I wanted certainty, but I also wanted to know that what I did would capture the interest of others.

So I came up with a petition that is based at Action Station, a social activist platform launched by Marianne Elliott. Action Station is about bringing people take action together in support of a better Aotearoa New Zealand.

As for that petition, look no further than here. Please SIGN this petition. Please SHARE it to your social media. Please TELL people you meet about it.

Minister right to deny secrecy to fishing companies


It has come to my attention that the Minister for Primary Industries, Stuart Nash, has rejected calls for secrecy on videos recorded on trawlers at sea that show dead marine birds and dolphins.

Aside from raising suspicions about whether the industry is trying to hide poor or illegal practices, the application for secrecy also means it would be more difficult to track any catches of protected species.

New Zealand prides itself on being responsible, but incidents such as those that happened with the Oyang trawlers where one of numerous offences was the improper catching and misreporting of fish taken, show another less savoury side. This has the potential to affect our reputation overseas, given that increasingly people are looking at the chain of supply to ensure that the products they consume came about as the result of legal and ethical practices.

In a letter to Mr Nash, the representatives of the fishing industry claimed that the videos would be used by individuals and organisations that have an anti-fishing agenda. The industry representatives also claimed that by making the videos subject to the Official Information Act, the Minister was in effect showing poor judgement on what are considered to be commercially sensitive issues.

Mr Nash rejected the letter, saying that he sees no grounds for changing the Fisheries Act in terms of those acting under it meeting their obligations to the Official Information Act.

When a company fishes commercially in New Zealand waters and operates ships out of a New Zealand port they are completely subject to New Zealand law. That means the company must ensure that New Zealand occupational safety and health provisions must be complied with, that when a ship goes to sea it is in a seaworthy condition and the crew are fit to be working on board. When the ship returns to its New Zealand port it does not drop ballast water that should have been discharged away from the coast. Most of all though unlike Oyang 75, which wound up being forfeited as a result of grossly negligent practices, physical and sexual abuse of crew and other crimes, it is expected that the crews on board are treated with dignity and paid their due wages.

If a company operating a fishing trawler or any other ship cannot or will not do that in accordance with New Zealand law, it has no place operating in our waters.

 

Environment Minister announces Waste Minimisation Act review


Today Minister for Environment, Eugenie Sage announced that the Waste Minimisation Act 2008 will be reviewed by the Ministry for Environment this year.

This comes amid ongoing concern about the implications for New Zealand following last years decision by China to stop taking New Zealand waste. It also comes amid a growing awareness of the damage single use plastic is doing to the environment. The latter has become the subject of efforts to reduce single use coffee cups, plastic straws and other commonly used but rapidly wasted plastic products.

It has been admitted recently that considerable confusion about whether coffee cups could be recycled has resulted in huge numbers being sent to land fills and refuse stations when they could have been recycled. It comes as revelations emerge that 295 million coffee cups, including millions of recyclable cups wind up in the land fill each year. One cafe owner estimated regular coffee drinkers would save $150 per year by investing in a keep cup that can be used over and over.

It has also been acknowledged that New Zealanders are among the biggest creators of waste world wide. Each year the average New Zealander creates around 734 kilogrammes of waste.

 

New Zealand introduced the Waste Minimisation Act in 2008. In 2010 a review of it led to the substantial weakening of the Act. Little progress was made in the subsequent seven years between then and last years election on reducing the amount of waste created in New Zealand.

New Zealand also has the Waste Minimisation Strategy, which was introduced in 2002. Whilst some progress was made in reducing waste under it, the strategy had several flaws:

  • Regional Councils were not – and are still not – required to take responsibility for waste management
  • Supplying data is not a requirement for land fills or refuse stations, meaning little is known about what is actually disposed of in New Zealand or in what volume