“I don't think we have a choice, we have to act, we have to do something.”
Steve Morris is ferreting through Tauranga's rubbish issues and something stinks. “I mean it's untenable we are one of the dirtiest, if not the dirtiest city, in the country diverting waste.”
The chair of Tauranga City Council's environment committee is charged with making recommendations on the future direction of the city's rubbish collection, sorting the city's rubbish problems.
“We are the country's fifth biggest city, but we still have a small town rubbish collection system. We are in an over-arching place where we cannot continue as we are.”
Ratepayers get a whiff of the problem every rubbish collection day. Four or five different companies drive up their street collecting bags and bins – a massive and expensive duplication of manpower, machinery and vehicles.
“And you probably won't believe this,” says Steve. “Every day, Monday to Saturday, 13 truck and trailers loaded with our rubbish go over the Kaimai Ranges to a landfill. Seventy eight trucks a week. And from an NZTA point of view that's 156 vehicles because they count trailers as vehicles.”
And the sad indictment is 55 of those trucks needn't go. Because 69.3 percent of the waste composition in our wheelie bins and rubbish bags could be recycled or composted – diverted from the landfill.
The paper, plastic containers, steel and aluminium cans, glass bottles and jars – or 15.6 per cent of our bin content – is recyclable. And organic kitchen and garden waste – 53.7 percent of our bins or bags – is compostable.
In a sustainable city, that represents a business opportunity. “We could be creating compost that goes back in the ground,” rues Steve. “We could be creating jobs at the transfer station, we could be making money and we could be saving all that money on the trucks going over the hill.”
We could, Christchurch is and Auckland, well maybe. The Queen city has been dithering for two decades about dealing with the most harmful of waste streams – organic waste.
On the other hand, Christchurch built a regional composting plant about eight years ago and every year its churns out thousands of tonnes of compost which is sold to dairy farmers, commercial growers and landscapers.
What TCC is doing now is working up some options.
Steve says there could be kerbside organic waste collection in Tauranga by the end of next year, or early 2019. “Could be as early as that. Absolutely. We are working on the options now and they could be presented to council prior to June next year.”
And a myriad of options could also include the upgrading of Te Maunga transfer station as well as re-starting a recycling service of its own. Another option is the council providing a composting service and leaving general waste to the private sector.
“If that happened the prices might be a bit higher and that would discourage putting rubbish in general waste and encourage recycling and composting – a positive outcome.” Moving through the process slowly and making sure all the facts are right is because there are jobs and businesses on the line, says Steve. But there is money to be saved.
“If council did go down the track of providing its own waste and recycling service we would be able to do it significantly cheaper than what is offered by the private sector.” And that's simply because, hypothetically, there would potentially be one contractor for the whole city.
“There would be big economies of scale. And so again there would be a massive impact on private sector providers, jobs, and ratepayers. We have a lot of work to do and we have to go out with a robust proposal.”
Sir Rob Fenwick, renowned environmentalist, recently spoke out again on the subject, saying chucking food waste into landfills where it rots and creates harmful methanogenic greenhouse gas is altogether a bad look. “It's wasteful of natural capital and human resources invested in producing food. But worst of all, by landfilling garden and food waste we deny the opportunity to enrich productive soil.”
He believes front-footing waste issues is a safe political potato. “That's because we all know we should waste less but we need to know solutions are simple and convenient.
“We can't all have a compost bin at the bottom of the garden, but we can, with the support of a progressive council, ensure our food scraps end up where they were intended.”
“What I can tell you,” says Steve, “is with those numbers – 69.3 percent of waste able to be diverted –we don't have a choice. But it's got to be the best outcome for the city and its residents.”