Zero Waste Conference: Kaitaia Community Centre,ThursdayEnvironment
I enjoy attending to gatherings in the regional centres. Apart from taking me into parts of the country I seldom visit, it is in the smaller centres where you can see more clearly the potential for community action. When it comes to community action to reduce waste, the smaller centres are leading by example. One of the smallest District Councils in the country, Opotiki, was the first to declare a Zero Waste target for its community.
Here in Kaitaia, the Far North District Minimisation Campaign to “Slash Trash” is an outstanding example of a community waste minimisation initiative. I understand you will hear more about this project this afternoon but I want to acknowledge commitment behind this project from the Far North District Council, the Community Business Environment Centre, the Zero Waste Trust and the community itself.
I’d also like to mention that the Ministry for the Environment has supported this project through the Sustainable Management Fund.
What is this thing called waste?
As you are aware, there is no legal definition of waste in either the Resource Management Act or the Local Government Act. The definition currently being used by the Ministry for the Environment describes waste as:
“any material that is unwanted and unvalued by its holder, whether it is liquid, solid or gaseous and able to be managed to reduce its adverse effects on the environment”
An important element of this definition is that it includes liquid, solid and gaseous forms of waste. I understand the Working Group on Waste Minimisation and Management struggled a bit with what wastes should be included in its consideration. I was pleased that it included the major waste streams and was not limited only to the consideration of solid waste.
However it is defined, there is too much of it. The report says some three million tonnes of waste will go to landfills this year. Every day, hundreds of thousands of litres of liquid waste are poured down drains into the sewerage systems. Quantities of waste are still increasing as our economy grows.
Both the Government and Local Government New Zealand have acknowledged the importance to reduce waste. We want to support the actions of communities, businesses and other parties in minimising the production of waste.
Why is it important to reduce the amount of waste?
There are several good reasons:
* The disposal of waste is damaging our environment. The discharge of wastes affects air and water quality. Solid waste placed in landfills can present a long-term risk to the environment.
* In many cases, we don't yet know the extent of the environmental harm we may be causing. For instance, information about the sources, quantities and toxicity of waste generated in New Zealand is incomplete and often outdated. As the working group report says, “you can’t manage what you don’t measure”.
* The physical impact of waste can adversely affect the relationship of Maori with their lands, waters and food gathering areas and their spiritual relationship with the environment.
* The generation of waste frequently represents an inefficient use of resources. Because we have dumped waste into the environment without cost we have undervalued our environment and our resources. Common sense tells us that neither in New Zealand nor in other countries can we continue to off-load these costs on to the environment and onto future generations. It's critical to try and break this apparent connection between economic growth and growth in the waste stream.
So what are we going to do about reducing waste?
From where I stand I can see a lot of good work being done but usually by individual communities and organisations. Some territorial local authorities have done excellent work in the development and implementation of waste management plans. But the point has been made to me repeatedly that there is a lack of coordination to these separate activities - and a lack of leadership from the top. The point has also been made that central leadership must be matched with local action.
It’s clear we need a better basis for policy and action on waste minimisation. To help get this and to capitalise on the experience already gained here and overseas, the President of Local Government New Zealand and myself set up the Working Group on Waste Minimisation and Management in July this year. We asked this group to advise the Ministry for the Environment and Local Government New Zealand on the development and implementation of a waste minimisation strategy for New Zealand.
While we asked the group to focus its advice on waste minimisation, we asked them to set this advice in the context of a comprehensive and integrated approach to waste management. This meant that more than solid wastes would need to be considered. We didn’t want waste reductions in one area simply meaning increases in another area.
It also meant that the bits of the puzzle needed to fit together. For instance, the incentives to reduce waste are weak if the costs of disposal are low. If these costs are low because of poor environmental standards or because disposal prices don’t reflect full costs, then this needs to be fixed
I’m pleased with the broad approach that has been adopted by the group. Its initial task has been completed and its report is being made available today. I think the working group has done an exceptional job in a short time. In fact, the detail of the advice is more than I anticipated and has given the process a good head start. Congratulations to the team for a job well done. Martin Ward, the chair of the group is here as are some of the members including Warren Snow, Don Riesterer and Steve Donnelly and you should take the opportunity to quiz them later.
Thanks also to Local Government New Zealand, the Ministry for the Environment and the groups like RONZ [Recycling Organisation of New Zealand] and Zero Waste that contributed early material to the exercise.
But, as the report notes, its advice is not the strategy. There is still a lot of work to be done before I can take a strategy to Cabinet for its endorsement. I would like to retain the sense of urgency around this work and want the exercise completed as soon as possible
What are the key messages in the working group report?
One is that waste is a complex issue that challenges the way we think. There is a subtitle to the report "valuing our resources – preventing waste –protecting our environment" that underscores this complexity. It emphasises that the purpose of preventing waste is to protect the environment and that to do this effectively, we must fully value resources. One practical implication of this point is that those discharging waste, whether to land, air or water, should pay the full costs.
Another message, is the need to take account of all major waste streams in designing a waste minimisation strategy. I am aware that the Zero Waste Trust has a focus on solid waste but we all acknowledge that a lot of waste material is discharged to the atmosphere or finds its way into our sewers and natural water systems. If we are going to prevent waste simply being diverted to other pathways into the environment, we must take a broad approach and not solve a problem in one place only to create another elsewhere.
A third point is that there is often an economic value to waste materials and there are many things that can be done to realise this economic value. As I said at the Waste Management Institute Conference last month, Where there’s muck there’s brass. Some businesses and some communities have been very successful in giving a new truth to this old saying. A combination of markets for waste material, community support, an eye for an opportunity and good organisation can help realise the value in materials that would otherwise be discarded.
A core proposal in the working group report is the establishment of a waste minimisation levy. A levy would provide a source of funds to support waste minimisation activities. Levies on solid waste appear to be common in Australia but the interesting aspect of this proposal is that other waste streams would also be levied.
There will be a lot of debate about this idea but Christchurch City has already shown the way with a levy on solid wastes, which it uses to support the Recovered Materials Foundation. So, there is a local precedent already and it should be possible to build on this.
The report proposes some change to the functions of central government and regional councils. For regional councils a more explicit role in the coordination of local government waste minimisation activities is recommended. This would recognise the regional dimension of these activities and pick up on a role some regional councils already undertake. For central government, the working group proposes a role similar to that filled by the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority. Reducing waste can conserve energy. Some waste minimisation measures can reduce greenhouse gas emissions. These benefits need to be built into the strategy.
One of the challenges in the report is how everyone can be encouraged to participate in reducing waste. I believe that Kiwis want to protect the environment, but many people do not see the harm that’s caused by wasted resources or poor waste management practices. Nor do councils and businesses necessarily give the public choice and make it easy for them to take decisions that help the environment.
There is still much to be done to raise the consciousness of the New Zealand public and to put in place incentives that encourage people to reduce waste. I would like to see a nationally coordinated approach to the provision of public information in which councils and other parties can combine for communicating consistent and powerful messages but still allowing the flexibility for education and information programmes based on their own communities.
Those of you passionately committed to the ideals of zero waste will not see in this report the same unambiguous vision. It’s even possible that the report might disappoint a few of you. My advice is to read it carefully.
It proposes an approach to waste minimisation that is comprehensive, far reaching and which reflects an appreciation of the complexity of the subject. It explicitly encourages the community waste minimisation initiatives supported by the Zero Waste Trust. The report encourages us to move beyond “end of pipe” thinking to avoiding it in the first place.
The advice of the working group will be taken seriously by the Government and, I believe, by Local Government New Zealand. Don Riesterer is a National Councillor of Local Government New Zealand and a member of the working party. I would like to invite him to say a few words.
[Don Riesterer to have 5 minutes]
Where do we go from here?
Some copies of the report are available at the conference. I’m not sure if there will be enough to go around. So, don’t waste them. I understand there is a session at the conference tomorrow to discuss the report.
Copies will be widely distributed and the report and some background papers are available on the Ministry for the Environment’s website [www.mfe.govt.nz] and the report will also be available on the website of Local Government New Zealand [www.lgnz.govt.nz].
Submissions are invited and should be sent to the Ministry for the Environment by 1 March
Local Government New Zealand will help facilitate a series of meeting next year through New Zealand to discuss the issues raised in the report. These meetings will be attended by staff from the Ministry and Local Government New Zealand as well as members of the working group.
In the meantime, I have asked the Ministry to start work on the strategy itself. The working group report has given us a good head start but there is a lot of hard work to be done. I expect the working group to continue to be a good source of advice through the process ahead. I want to see a strategy in place and operational next year.
While a clear national strategy for waste minimisation is important, it’s action not words that makes a real difference. The Zero Waste Trust is taking action and providing great support to enthusiastic communities. The good work that’s being done needs to continue and remember, new initiatives don’t necessarily depend on action by Government.
Finally, I want to recognise the commitment of all of you in being here – I also want to challenge you consider hard the issues raised in the working group report and provide the Ministry for the Environment and Local Government New Zealand with your constructive feedback.
Enjoy the conference