Environment - No more landfills

By: Kevin Smith

The public has until May 26 to make a submission on Waste Management’s proposed new landfill in the Dome Valley. Kevin Smith, managing director of The Board, which represents waste-to-energy company USGIS in New Zealand, insists there are better options.

A colleague made the point to me recently that if somebody dumped a bin of rubbish on an office floor, the solution – to throw earth over it – was not an adequate response. He was making the point, of course, that throwing earth over millions of tonnes of urban waste is equally nonsensical. It is time for bold leadership on the subject of handling urban waste. Dome Valley can indeed be saved from this “out of sight, out of mind” option.

Waste should be eliminated, not buried. Waste that has been eliminated will not leach into our groundwater and become a breeding ground for all manner of dangerous pathogens and disease-carrying insects. To say there are better answers is an understatement. The new alternatives are just so much better. Technology is now available to transform urban waste into electricity, or high quality, low-cost building panels. All types of waste such as tyres, asbestos, hospital residues and packaging are being converted to productive use and creating new jobs. Waste no longer needs to be buried to stew away and threaten our environment for decades.

There are more than 200 landfills throughout New Zealand. Some have caused alarm in recent months when wave action exposed old landfills to the ocean. The result has been plastic and other toxins entering the sea and doing well-publicised damage to marine life.

New Zealanders, not only northern Auckland residents, are justifiably frustrated that some local authorities continue to consider landfills as the only option for the disposal of waste.  It is particularly frustrating for those who are aware of technology which can, for example,  effectively convert Auckland city’s daily waste of about 500,000 tonnes to something like 250 megawatts of energy – enough power to supply 100,000 homes. Alternatively, the same volume of waste could produce enough building panels for thousands of affordable, thermally efficient, cyclone-proof houses.

If our Covid-19 experience has any silver lining, let’s hope it serves as the motivator to open our minds to new thinking, including abandoning the outdated notion of landfills. Redemption from the curse of landfills will be among the benefits. Not only can we avoid soiling the beautiful Dome Valley, we now have the opportunity to excavate every landfill across the country and turn the waste of previous generations into productive energy, housing and clean water for New Zealanders yet to be born.

By Kevin Smith
Managing director of The Board


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