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.

Public perceptions of e-waste in New Zealand


Between 72,000 and 85,000 tons of electronic waste accumulate in New Zealand each year. Electronic waste has many valuable minerals in its composition such as gold and copper, which can be found in commercial quantities and have considerable value.

Only about 1% of the e-waste that accumulates each year is ever properly recycled, dismantled or salvaged. The potential environmental risks are considerable – toxic elements such as lead and mercury whose poisonous effects are well known, along other not so well known but similarly toxic elements such as cadmium, can leach into groundwater, contaminate the soil and release harmful dust. All of these have potential vectors into the human body by swallowing, inhalation or touch.

However there is a growing awareness that this is not sustainable and risks causing lasting damage to New Zealand’s reputation. But also there is much wastage in gold, copper and other valuable minerals by the failure to extract them. Gold and copper are estimated to be dumped in e-waste at quantities of 600 kilogrammes and 600 tons respectively. There will be a market for that much of those two minerals.

As part of the academic requirements for my Graduate Diploma of Sustainable Management, I am required to conduct original research. Knowing what I have mentioned above has inspired me to do mine in e-waste. My research question is:

What are the public perceptions of electronic waste in New Zealand, with a view to starting a public discourse on the issue.

To this end I am doing a survey examining peoples understanding of electronic waste as an issue, asking for their views on it and whether thei council is doing enough

If you live in New Zealand and are keen to participate, I would love to hear from you. Please e-mail me at robertglennie000@gmail.com to find out more – you will be given a survey in MS Word format to do. It is not a long one. Likewise if you have experience working with e-waste either in a planning, handling or other role, I would be very happy to hear what your thoughts are.

 

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.