Rubbish Dump is outdated thinking

14 July 2021

“The reality is a new landfill is required to safely manage the waste produced by the people who choose to live in Auckland” was Waste Management’s opening answer to a series of questions posed to it by local newspaper Mahurangi Matters this week.

That shows, predictably, the 19th century thinking that is being applied to the waste issue, not only by Waste Management, but also apparently by Auckland City Council.

For Waste Management, of course, that’s because it’s the cheapest option and the one with which they can make the biggest profit to send back to their overseas owners in China.

Auckland City Council should know better. While it’s true that the current site at Redvale is approaching its use-by date, landfills are a third world option for rubbish disposal, used in countries like Ghana and Bulgaria.

The 21st century option is treat the waste stream as a valuable resource by operating a waste-to-energy plant to recover much more of the metals and other re-usable materials before incinerating the rest in an ultra high temperature process which has the potential to be carbon negative and ecologically sound.

Options like turning plastic into fuel for aeroplanes and cars and road building is already being used overseas as well.

On a small scale, the cement plant at Portland shows what’s possible, burning around three million used tyres a year. Combusted at around 1400degC, what’s left is combined into the cement.

Opposition to the new dump in the Dome Valley is not nimbyism (not in my back yard), it’s realism. It shouldn’t be in anybody’s back yard!

While the vast majority of waste collected in New Zealand goes into rubbish dumps, over 2000 pyrolytic plants operate across the world in countries like Japan, Norway, Sweden, France, Germany, Belgium and recover a substantial value of material from the waste stream before turning the remainder into electricity, heat for industrial use, and slag for use in road building, leaving a small amount of residual ash.

In Singapore a newly commissioned waste-to-energy plant powers an adjacent waste water treatment plant turning used water into drinkable fresh water.

One in Auckland could do the same, and power a desalination plant using sea water to solve the city’s fresh water shortage problem.

A waste-to-energy plant south of Auckland would be close to New Zealand’s fastest growing cities – Hamilton, Rotorua, and Tauranga, and could take rubbish from the whole of the country and the Pacific Islands. Railways could carry the bulk of the load with a combination of rail and coastal shipping handling South Island rubbish.

This would take large numbers of heavy trucks off the road and be far more efficient, less polluting and make roads safer for other users. In the case of the proposed Dome Valley site, that would mean 300 fewer return trips by truck and trailer units on the main road north daily.

The argument against the new technology is that it is un-affordable, yet finding the money is actually the easiest part of putting the new technology into operation.

New Zealand’s central bank (the Reserve Bank) is owned by you and me - not exclusively of course - the other 5 million New Zealanders part own it as well. It’s administered on our behalf by the government.  It produces the notes and coins we have in our pockets and purses (which amount to less than 3% of the money supply), and it controls the financial system.

Since March last year it's been in the process of creating $100 billion dollars in new digital money and giving it to rich investors, bond dealers, and banks in exchange for government bonds - IOU’s for the money they previously lent to the government.

That money has fed the fires under the massive increases in house prices, stoked by even more money creation by the commercial banks themselves.

Just a small fraction of that $100 billion dollars could instead go to building a waste-to-energy plant, waste water treatment plant, desalination plant, and the rail capacity to transport the waste stream to them.

Government owned and commercially run, those 21st century plants would put New Zealand at the forefront of the drive for environmental leadership.

Environment Minister David Parker, when opening the new tyre burning plant said “"New Zealand needs to address its longstanding problem with waste, so we can become the low waste, low emissions economy we need to be. I congratulate Fletchers (with some government help) for making an investment that will bring long-term benefits and help us manage our waste responsibly."

Hear hear.

But Government rhetoric about climate change, waste reduction, and road safety won’t cut it.

It needs to take action now to stop the proposed new dump, pass legislation to stop nationwide dumping of rubbish in holes in the ground, and enable the Reserve Bank funding necessary to meet the objectives Mr Parker laid out.

The silence from central government on any such action is deafening.

No wonder Dome Valley residents are up in arms.