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.

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. – not 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.

Feasibility of Waste-to-Energy plants in New Zealand

As the world debates climate change issues, and the market for fossil fuels wanes from a combination of lower prices and a slowing market, questions continue to arise about energy sources in the 21st Century. As one who thinks there is significant potential for a technological based solution, I have been wondering what alternative energy sources might be used in place of non renewables that take thousands of years to form and whose consumption is causing massive environmental degradation.

Waste to energy plants are in effect high powered incinerators, that burn waste at close to 900-950 degrees celsius, and generating electricity in the process. In 2011 there were 86 known waste-to-energy plants in the United States, which generated about 2,700 megawatts of electricity powering about 2 million homes. The total installed U.S. waste-to-energy generation capacity at that time was roughly equivalent to three Huntly sized power stations in a New Zealand context.

In Norway a growing market for waste-to-energy power generation has been established. The country imports waste from towns in the United Kingdom to help feed the incinerator. It is divisive however, with some people and organizations believing the facility, near Bergen, to be a blot on the landscape. Others are concerned that it may undermine recycling efforts by causing confusion and providing an easy throw-away option. Supporters point to the large volume of waste dumped across Europe per annum – in 2013, roughly 150 million tons – saying it only represents a tiny fraction of the total amount dumped.

Could New Zealand apply such technology here? Possibly. Given the concentration of much of New Zealand’s population in urban areas, it is certainly worth investigating. I would envisage plants being built in the industrial parts of Auckland Wellington, Christchurch and Hamilton. Rather than taking the waste to landfills for dumping, the waste collected from kerb side collection could instead go to a waste-to-energy facility. This would have an added benefit of possibly lengthening the life time of existing landfills.

Each year 80,000 tons of electronic waste (e-waste)gets generated in New Zealand and can be as diverse as old  dumb and smart phones, printers, lap/desktops, kindles, digital camera’s, GPS units, microwaves, televisions and so forth. Less than 1% of it gets recycled. E-waste has significant minerals in it, including neodymium, europium and tantalum. The Basel Accord prevents toxics being sent to third world countries, but only a few first world countries have proper facilities and protocol for disposing of e-waste. Although New Zealand has ratified the Basel Convention, it has only made ad hoc efforts to support the recycling of e-waste.

New Zealand also throws out a large amount of plastics, ranging from soft drink and milk bottles, to product wrapping and bags. Despite assertions to the contrary the vast majority of this ends up in landfills. As a nation on the Pacific Rim, some of the plastics from ships that leave/enter New Zealand waters find their way into the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a large area of seawater in the northern Pacific where ocean currents are depositing huge amounts of waste – one estimate suggests 5 trillion individual pieces of waste.


An alternative budget

Over the last few months I have been thinking about an alternative budget for New Zealand. I have been thinking about what I think the socio-economic priorities need to be and what financial assistance they might need. From my previous blog posts it is, or should be by now, obvious that I am not a fan of this Government. The general failure of this Government, like the Labour one before it to significantly improve the socio-economic status of New Zealand and New Zealanders, proves a long held theory of mine that neither large party has or intends to develop a long term plan for improving New Zealand. It also disproves the National party claim that they are good managers of the economy. With that in mind, here is my alternative budget:

  • Introducing a capital gains tax on secondary properties (ones lived for less than six months per year) – nearly all countries in the O.E.C.D. have one; this would be around the median
  • Establish a long term debt repayment plan for national debt
  • More funding to tackle corporate fraud, corporate tax evasion and assist with compliance
  • Desisting with the sale or partial sale of further state assets

Outside of improving New Zealand’s fiscal situation

  • Investigating the legalization of cannabis for medical purpose – this would help reduce the number of people going to jail and also possibly be a source of additional revenue
  • Restore Department of Conservation funding to 2008 levels – with consolidation of existing programmes being the priority
  • Funding investigative work into a long term e-waste recycling/re-use programme
  • Ending the Roads of National Significance and giving higher priority to maritime and rail transport for freight – no new money would be allocated
  • Restoring and increasing government funding for Womens Refuge, Rape Crisis and establishing a male specific domestic/sexual violence organization similar to Womens Refuge
  • Investigating how much revenue would be lost with view to removing G.S.T. on fresh fruit and vegetables

This is based on the knowledge that there is only about N.Z.$1.5 billion in free money that can be allocated. It is done with a view that stale governance has led to a dearth of more original policy. Keeping debt in check is a priority, but it should not strangle the creation of jobs or damage the principles on which our society is established. More ideas about spending priorities can form as a national blue print for making New Zealand the best nation of its geographical size in the world evolves.