The Waste Management Institute Conference

  • Marian Hobbs

* I see you have invited the same keynote speakers to Christchurch as were invited to WasteMINZ in Auckland last year. Brian and I should be flattered that we have been given the opportunity of an encore. I notice that our order of speaking has been changed. Is this politeness due to the fact that Brian is such a hard act to follow?
* A year later and what’s changed? Well I have. I can now recognise a genetically engineered organism at a 100 metres. I can probably see a tiger mosquito or a dead black widow spider at the same distance. They all look the same. They look like trouble. I’ve also learnt a lot more about waste, its problems and the enormous energy some people are giving to finding solutions.
* I want to talk about waste and I’d like to focus on the positive. But, first, I want to provide some broader background to the changing direction in government policy as we come to grips with the idea of sustainable development and as we plan for the 10th Anniversary of Rio de Janeiro Conference on Environment and Development. This is the broader context for our work on waste.

Sustainable Development, Strategies of Government and Rio plus 10

* The preparation for the World Summit on Sustainable Development next year is focusing minds in Wellington. This conference will be held in Johannesburg, South Africa, in September 2002.
* For this summit, we need to prepare a country profile that reports on New Zealand’s actions to implement Agenda 21, the broad based commitment that leaders made at the Rio Conference.
* As part of the preparation for this conference, we are working through the implications of our commitment to sustainable development through the development of a Sustainable Development Strategy that will, amongst other things, guide the Government’s economic, social and environmental policies.
* The recently completed National Energy Efficiency and Conservation Strategy, the Government’s climate change policy and the proposed New Zealand Waste Minimisation and Management will be important elements underlining the Government’s commitment to sustainable development.
* Sometimes I think the development of strategies is an opportunity to avoid real decisions but another thing that I have learnt is the importance of being clear about what we want to do, why we need to do what we want to do, what are costs and options of what we need to do and what needs take priority. This is particularly important for a new government that wants to change some entrenched policies.
* An initiative I took, in preparation for the World Summit was the Rio plus 10 Community Participation Project. I was pleased by the huge public response to this exercise. The reaction underlines the importance of public information and education about waste.

* The most common comment was that New Zealand’s clean, green image is not matched by the reality. While people recognised that New Zealand is still relatively clean compared with other countries, this was considered as more good luck than good management.

* Reducing waste and managing it better can contribute significantly to making our clean green image a reality and to achieving New Zealand’s goals for development that is environmentally sustainable.

The New Zealand Waste Minimisation and Management Strategy

* So, what’s happening about the waste strategy?
* The Working Group on Waste Minimisation and Management completed its work in August this year after a process of consultation and public discussions on the discussion paper that was published last December. Over 250 submissions were received, almost all supporting the proposals in the report.
* Progress on the development of the Strategy itself has reached the point where a draft has been made available for peer review by government departments and an expert group of council officers formed to advise the National Council of Local Government New Zealand whether the Strategy should be adopted;
* The Ministry for the Environment is currently digesting the comments that have been made and a further draft is being prepared. This will be subject to one further round of consideration by departments and the expert group.
* I expect the proposed Strategy to be considered by the National Council of Local Government New Zealand at its mid-December meeting. I am hopeful the National Council will approve the Strategy, in principle and will recommend to the constituent councils of Local Government New Zealand that they adopt the Strategy as a basis for their own waste minimisation and management plans and policies.
* I further expect to take the proposed Strategy to Cabinet in the New Year for formal approval and adoption as government policy.
* What’s in this Strategy and is it going to make a difference? These are some of the things I expect to be in the Strategy:
* Confirmation that central and local government will make a long- term commitment to significantly reducing waste and the harm it can cause to people and the environment.
* A challenging vision that should help focus our minds on the need to think and act differently about waste----to close the loop between the use of resources and the environment.
* An approach based on goals and principles of sustainable development.
* A comprehensive approach that includes solid, liquid and gaseous waste
* A continued focus on the most harmful wastes but more consideration to reducing high volume wastes.
* Programmes, already underway, that will see that all waste treatment and disposal facilities achieve high environmental performance standards by the end of this decade –and adopt full cost pricing policies.
* Programmes that will ensure the development of sound information systems and better coordination of public information and education- you can’t manage anything if you can’t measure it.
* A shift in emphasis from managing disposal to waste prevention and reduction
* The retention of the waste management provisions of the Local Government Act and a commitment to review these-and other legislation relating to waste- to ensure consistency with the Strategy
* Targets that local government and others can aim for.

* While the Strategy will set out a new direction and approach, it will not provide a detailed blue print for everything that has to be done for evermore. Some big issues have been raised in this process that are going to require time to work through carefully and to consult further. Decisions on these issues, such as the appropriate legislative basis for waste management, lie in the future.
* It will also take time for local authorities to respond to the objectives of the Strategy. Some like Christchurch are probably ahead of the game but others will need to work through how the implementation of the Strategy will be translated into practice.
* Will implementing the Strategy make a difference? Yes! Will the difference be immediate? No! The Strategy builds on good things that are already happening and implementing these will help. The real impact of the Strategy is likely to be in the future as its implementation changes the way we think and act towards waste. We know from the experience of other countries that this is a long journey.

Those that are rising to the Challenge

* The implementation of a New Zealand Waste Minimisation and Management Strategy, and its call for a change in direction, will present a challenge to many and require initiative and leadership.
* I expect the Government to do its part and I am hopeful that the Minister of Finance will be persuaded by my arguments about the importance of this policy area.
* Leadership does not always have to come from the top however and certainly not always from central Government.
* I have been enormously impressed by some of the things that I have seen happening to minimise and manage waste.
* I had the good fortune to visit Christchurch City recently and spend some time seeing the results of the partnership between the City and the Recovered Materials Foundation. Strong local political leadership coupled with a committed community can make a real difference. Christchurch provides a model that others can learn from. But its message needs to be promoted by central government.
* Christchurch City is also one of the organisations that made a commitment last year at the Redesigning Resources Conference to sustainability. No central government agency has accepted this challenge- something I would like to change.
* There is leadership coming too from much smaller communities like Kaitaia, Opotiki, Kaikoura, Amberley, and Ashburton. These all provide different models and different lessons in waste minimisation.
* We are going to need champions in industry and we have a few already like Stephen Tindall and Richard Morley-Hall from the Warehouse (who must have a lot of waste to manage) and Rob Fenwick of the Living Earth Company. The NZ Business Council for Sustainable Development has taken up the Challenge and the BusinessCare organisation is doing an excellent job.
* We are also going to need leadership from Maori, who have particular cultural issues with the management of wastewater and sewage sludge, from the scientists and technologists, from the communicators and educationalists and from committed individuals, such as Warren Snow of the Zero Waste Trust.
* There is always a risk in mentioning the names of specific individuals and councils. I do not want to imply, by omission, that leadership is not coming from other quarters. It is and it’s gratifying to see.
* I use these as examples of what I want to see more of.

* I’d like to thank the many in the audience that have given their time to the exercises being managed by the Ministry for the Environment – This input is critical to the quality of the materials being produced by the Ministry.
* One last mention in this roll call. WasteMINZ. You are a young and committed association that provides a great network for those working with waste.
* I was really pleased to learn about the initiative you have taken to reposition waste and to promote a new age in waste management. This should strongly complement the Waste Minimisation and Development Strategy. It’s a great example of the sort of partnership that can be forged.
* I look forward to hearing Brian Richards and Jim Bradley talk about this changed approach and will provide a few additional comments after their presentations.

Additional Comments on the “Lifeafterwaste” Programme (to be made in response to the presentation of the proposed programme by Brian Richards and Jim Bradley)

* First, congratulations WasteMINZ on taking this initiative and Brian and Jim in taking the initiative to this point.
* As I said earlier, the proposed “Lifeafterwaste” strongly complements the Waste Minimisation and Management Strategy being developed by central and local government.
* The programme provides a major opportunity to help turn rhetoric into reality and recognises the critical importance of public information and education.
* I want the Government to be involved in the further development of this proposal and we will participate in the implementation team.
* A coordinated, consistent, nationwide education programme should be a core element of Strategy implementation.
* I need to sound one note of caution however. While changing hearts and minds and the way we act towards waste will be important, the idea of a government led and funded media campaign will have to compete with other priorities. I am prepared to consider this proposal but suggest that any campaign will need careful consideration of its costs and benefits and support from a groundswell of public opinion and local government lobbying.