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

New Zealand: NOT 100% Pure

I have an admission. It is a rather embarrassing one for a person who is as proud of my country as I am to make, but it has to be said. This nation that I and 4.6 million other New Zealanders call home has been subjecting you and millions of others to misleading advertising about the state of our natural environment.

You might have heard of the “100% Pure” advertising, marketing New Zealand as an environmentally pure location, pure enjoyment and fun. Yes it is pure enjoyment and yes this country is a lot of fun, but it is not environmentally pure. And it has not been for sometime.

There are some very good reasons why I am saying this:

  1. Anyone who has been an active recreationalist in our freshwater lakes and rivers cannot help but notice the decline in aquatic health of these features, artificial or otherwise. It stems in large part from excessive dairying, which is water intensive and although it creates significant jobs, the number of cow herds has become unsustainable. For every cow there is the urine and faeces of 10 human beings. These are rich in nitrate and when they get into water courses they contaminate drinking water supplies as the Hawkes Bay is finding out to its detriment.
  2. Our environmental footprint per individual New Zealander is substantial. If the whole world had the environmental footprint of a New Zealander, we would need all of the current planet and 95% of another equivalent planet. And it is well known that there is no Planet B to realistically colonized in the foreseeable future. Although it creates emissions – there is no 100% pollution free way of dealing with waste other than not doing the activity/using the device that caused it – high temperature incinerators may help (or contribute the to problem).
  3. Our marine environment is suffering the effects of a combination of problems including over fishing and trawlers using dredge nets that act like a scoop on the seabed. A failure to address the decline of critically listed species such as the Maui Dolphin, which is believed to number only 55 in the wild means such species may become extinct in our lifetime.
  4. Electronic waste is not a concept many New Zealanders are familiar with, yet we generate about 80,000 tons per annum or the displacement of a decent size aircraft carrier. It includes unwanted dumb/smart phones, kitchen appliances such as stoves and microwaves, televisions, camera’s, MP3/4 players and so forth,

This is not the first time valid concerns have been raised about the misleading advertising and nor is it the first time New Zealand has been found wanting on the subject. And for that I think New Zealand needs to do the honest thing and apologize. It needs to take down for good, the “100% Pure” advertising and come up with some other slogan, because “100% Pure” we are not.