Is the tide turning on plastics?

One use plastic items: A lot of New Zealanders – myself included have them and/or use them. They might be micro beads or Pump water bottles or Coke bottles. They might be single use plastic bags.

Is it it just a beat up when media intone that war has been declared on single use plastics? Or is there a degree of realism in that idea? In the last year moves to phase out micro beads have been announced by the Government. Supermarket company Countdown has to their credit announced an intention to stop using plastic bags by the end of 2018. Various petitions and other social activism measures are rumbling on the internet, trying to drum up support for a complete change in how we view plastics.

The major targets appear to be straws, bags, micro beads, but could be potentially expanded to include single use bottles, containers.

Some time ago Pak N Save introduced a 5c charge for a bag. It was a modest step forward even at the time and would seem like a baby’s effort at making their company more sustainable if it had happened today.

Secondary uses will continue to exist. When one takes the dog for a walk, if the dog chooses to poo somehow you have to scoop up and store its droppings until you can dispose of them. I second hand use plastic bags by putting sandwiches I eat for lunch at work in them.

The National Party is not so sure. Their spokesperson for the environment, Scott Simpson, suggested that the moves against plastic are meaningless since apparently we do not know where it came from. Having said that, National to their credit did initiate the moves to institute a ban on micro beads, which will come into force later this year.

The use of social media to generate concern has been widespread. Video’s taken by tourists in Bali and other popular locations show surfers at sea riding waves that have appalling amounts of man made rubbish in them – plastics, paper, aluminium cans and so forth.

However, New Zealand will have to unveil comprehensive reforms against all types of waste at some point in the near future, or it will run the risk of losing the remainder of its reputation as a clean, green nation. China announced a ban on importing waste in July 2017, which took effect on 1 January 2018. This resulted in $21 million in waste from New Zealand being refused per annum. Other nations such as Vanuatu are instituting full bans on single use plastic bags.

National might not be sure about a campaign beginning against single use plastics. However there are plenty of other organizations and individuals who believe that waste plastic has reached critical levels with lasting consequences if nothing happens to mitigate the problem soon. The tide might not have yet turned against single use plastics, but it is coming. And soon.

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.

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.

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

The electronic waste problem in New Zealand

There is a major type of pollution that is going completely unnoticed by the media, which I think needs to be mentioned. Electronic waste has been around ever since electronic appliances and equipment began to be manufactured, but it has only been in the last 25-30 years that concerns have started to be raised about the effect it is having on the environment in terms of the metals that are being mined in Africa for use in it, right through to issues to do with what happens to devices no longer wanted, or which are broken or otherwise cannot be used. This post attempts to answer some of the questions about electronic waste.

What is electronic waste?

It is the unwanted electronic appliances we have at home, electronic equipment used in businesses and industry that is no longer needed. The laptops and desktops, the i_________ (iPhone, iPad, iPod, etc)devices, the C.D./D.V.D. players, the televisions, microwaves, washing machines, the old cassette players, the old VHS and VCR recorders when they are no longer able to be used are considered electronic waste (e-waste).

Why is electronic waste dangerous?

When electronics are junked, they still contain the plastics, the metals and other substances that went into their manufacture. The diodes, the wiring, and so forth all contain substances and minerals that are very toxic. For example the printer inks and toners that go in printers including the ones used at home and in small offices, contain cadmium which can cause cardiovascular (heart)disease. Batteries, fluorescent lamps, switches and thermostats all contain mercury. You can see the United States Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Register for more information on these and other toxic hazards posed by e-waste.

How bad is the problem in New Zealand?

In a word, significant. Although local councils are aware of the hazards posed by e-waste, few appear to have a long term plan for dealing with it within their territorial confines and there is no statutory requirement under either the Local Government Act 2002 or the Resource Management Act 1991 to produce and implement management plans for this type of waste. Although New Zealand is a signatory to the Basel Convention which is an international legal instrument established to prevent the export of such waste to inappropriate facilities in developing nations.

Because of the limitations, and the general lack of public knowledge about the problems posed by  this type of waste, e-waste goes into local tips, refuse stations, rubbish bins and where ever the user decides to dispose of it. Less than 1% of the 80,000 tons generated per annum goes into recycling programmes, whose establishment in New Zealand has been sporadic at best. The Environmental Protection Authority (E.P.A. Рnot to be confused, though similar in nature with the American Environmental Protection Agency)information seems to be more targetted at businesses rather than private individuals, such as I and you the reader.

Many of these items would be gladly received by small community groups, non-governmental organizations who are short on money and resources. Due to their rapid depreciation in value many people do not stop to consider alternatives to disposal of unwanted devices.

What problems can e-waste cause?

There are numerous problems that e-waste can cause, but the most significant is probably leachates getting into ground water from improperly designed waste tips and refuse stations. ArIn the process of that they would contaminate the soil, thereby potentially making crop production unsafe.

What can be done?

There are a number of things that can be done in New Zealand, and they include:

  • Requiring local councils to adopt management plans for this type of waste
  • Set up a nation wide recycling programme
  • Set up education programmes in the community
  • Amend appropriate legislation such as the Hazardous Substances and Noxious Organisms Act requiring toxic materials to be identified; the Resource Management Act to change the rules for land fills where so much of this ends up