What to do about waste?

23:48, Jan 19 2012

Waste is an issue for all of us. I have to admit that I didn't really care or think about it very much when I was growing up, and for a long time afterwards.

Back in the old days, I used the local recycling services, had a compost bin (but it was always slimy and smelly), and would take bigger stuff for re-use and recycling to the local tip.

I chose to move away from my life in Britain and went travelling around the world. This gave me my first view of real, unsanitised waste handling, at a huge dump on the edge of the Sahara.

Africa was the plastic bag continent then – the first time I had realised what a problem they could be. They were given with every purchase. They were everywhere – flying through the air, stuck in fences, buried in mud and so on.

This all raised my awareness of waste. Now I see waste everywhere I go, because I look for it – I can't walk past a recycling bin at an event or a skip on the street without checking and despairing about what is in there that shouldn't be.

In New Zealand, we rely on councils to manage our waste, and they are legally required to do so. It is our choice as to whether we use the solutions in place, but I believe it is more than that. We need to support councils when they try to improve our lot, and they need to consult us on ideas for solutions and how to solve problems. Together, I believe we can improve how we handle waste.


Both our councils have just completed an arduous process of reviewing waste management in the region and developing a joint plan to address the future. The Waste Minimisation Act forced them to go through the process, but they didn't have to do it together. The plan is now out for consultation. We have until the end of January to look at it and give them our comments.

So what are my thoughts? It's great that they worked together to produce it. I like the vision of "valuing resources and eliminating waste", and the three goals – to avoid waste, value resources and avoid harm – are excellent. I wish others such as the Nelson Environment Centre and companies like Waste Management, EnviroWaste and Can Plan had been invited to be involved in the process. I believe the document would have been further along the development process if that had been the case.

I would like the goal of avoiding waste to have more actions against it – there is a big focus on reducing and recycling when I believe the need is to stop producing waste in the first place. This would save us all money, because we wouldn't spend money on things we would end up throwing away.

The easiest example of this is food waste. The Government estimates that New Zealanders throw away about 259,000 tonnes of food each year – about 64 kilograms each. That is about my weight.

Think of the cost of that food, and then also think about what ingredients have gone into the food, the energy to grow, prepare, process and transport it, and then the cost of throwing it in the bin.

If you are interested in how waste is handled in the region and what we shouldn't put into landfill, then you should have a read of the document. It is available on the Nelson city and Tasman district council websites, and submissions need to be delivered by January 31.