• Marie Hasler
Associate Minister of the Environment

Department of Landscape and Plant Science Unitec, Institute of Technology Carrington Road, Auckland

Tena koutou, tena koutou, tena koutou katoa. Good afternoon everyone.

John Webster, Chief Executive and President of UNITEC, thank you for those words of introduction.

My colleague Education Minister, Dr Nick Smith; Health, Science and Technology Dean, Dr Jane Harman; Head of Department, Landscape and Plant Science, Dr Nancy Beck; Sustainable Land Management tutor, Brendan Hoare; other members of UNITEC faculty and students; Pae Arahi, Haare Williams; invited guests; and representatives of Willson Brown Associates Ltd. . .

Thank you for this opportunity to speak to you today and for giving me the pleasurable task of officially launching New Zealand's first Vertical Composting Unit - affectionately know as VERA.

It is a great pleasure for me to be here, both in my role as Associate Minister for the Environment and as MP for Waitakere.

As many of you will be aware my home city and electorate of Waitakere is very eco-friendly and has for seVERAl years been active in environmental issues.

We all know about the need for conservation, for waste reduction and greater recycling. Our views on the issue can, however, be simplistic. Many people think once we have put our cans and bottles in the recycling bin, we have done our bit for the environment.

Yet, nationally large proportions of recyclable material goes to landfills. Organic waste accounts for about one third of all materials going to landfills.

We all have a part to play to ensure that waste is reduced; from the compost bin in our own back yards to the more advanced technology of VERA.

Not only does composting have the effect of reducing organic waste, but if done on a large enough scale it can also be commercially viable as is demonstrated by the Auckland-based Living Earth Venture - the largest compost producer in New Zealand.

We can't wish environmental problems away, but rather we need to face them, and to take positive action.

Government is developing a model for measuring the environmental impacts of waste management polices. This will allow us to manage waste in a way that improves environmental outcomes.

The most pressing issue for us is the management of hazardous waste. Government has also made the commitment to spend money on research to help us make progress on general waste issues in the future.

Government is also using the Sustainable Management Fund to pay for research to identify the economic incentives and barriers to good waste management. In particular this research will look at recycling.

This year the Ministry for the Environment is conducting a second Landfill Census.

The aim of this Census is to ensure the effective management of landfills in New Zealand and to identify further actions required to improve landfill management performance.

The time of the 'tip in the gully' has passed.

It is time we started to think about how to reduce our waste, rather than just how we dispose of it.

I note in your briefing you describe UNITEC as a small town, with around 20,000 students and staff. And your intention to develop the campus as a model for a sustainable community.

This gives your students many opportunities to learn and develop skills which be useful, both here and in the wider community.

For this reason I hope many of your students will take advantage of a new Government initiative, just announced as part of the Five Steps Ahead programme.

Government intends to spend up to $37 million a year to fund more than 1600 tertiary education scholarships.

These scholarships will encourage a greater number of young New Zealanders with the potential to build New Zealand's knowledge base to get skills in the science and technology area.

Government is also setting up the Higher Learning Sector Taskforce to map a strategic vision for our tertiary education sector.

UNITEC has a reputation for innovation and quality.

Some five years ago, in association with the Auckland Regional Council, UNITEC developed a stormwater treatment pond system.

The ponds treat run-off from a 40ha residential catchment and have been landscaped into the grounds.

UNITEC's involvement in community planting projects, along with local councils, is increasing the area of Auckland's indigenous vegetation by restoring urban streams and undeveloped reserves such as Oakley Creek.

And now you have VERA.

VERA meets an important educational and environmmental need in relation to waste reduction.

VERA introduces students to the realities of waste and provides a practical opportunity to address waste reduction through composting. At the same time helping to reduce the amount of organic material entering the waste stream.

Designed and made in New Zealand by Willson Brown Associates Ltd I understand VERA has an extraordinary appetite and will turn any organic waste, from kitchen scraps to plant prunings, into compost.

This compost mulch will be used by the Department of Landscape and Plant Science and grounds staff here on the campus. VERA will also provide UNITEC staff and postgraduate students with many research opportunities.

The days of noxious weeds, such as gorse, ginger and kikuyu, could well be over if trials show they can be turned into useable compost mulch and in as fast a time as 14 days.

To achieve all this VERA will be working 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The Vertical Composting Unit is part of UNITEC's focus on environmentally sustainable systems.

In our fast-paced global world it would be all too easy to overlook our environment and forget its importance to us all. It is reassuring to see how much time and energy students and staff here at UNITEC put into considering issues which have an impact on New Zealand's future direction.

The initiatives you have been working on are tangible evidence of your enthusiasm and motivation to take responsibility. I thank you for this.

We all have challenges ahead - we need to convince other students, educators and people in the wider community to adopt environmentally friendly practices in their daily lives.

It is pleasing to note that the new technology encompassed in VERA will be instrumental in New Zealand's future for converting organic waste into a useable product.

Congratulations to everyone involved in this project. I take great pleasure in officially launching VERA.

Thank you.