Debating the dump: Two views on landfills

News that industry giant Waste Management wants to create a major new landfill in the Dome valley has been greeted with howls of outrage (MM October 3). Are there better ways to get rid of Auckland’s rubbish or do landfills remain relevant? Auckland Councillor Penny Hulse and Waste Management managing director Tom Nickels present opposing views …  

Cr Penny Hulse first got into local politics when living next to a landfill 30 years ago.

Reduce need for landfills, councillor says

Extending the life of existing landfills and reducing the need for them in future must remain the core focus for Auckland Council, according to environment and community committee chair Councillor Penny Hulse.

She says that as development and population continues to increase, it is more important than ever to remain motivated towards reducing waste, as opposed to needing or asking for more landfill space.

She expressed sympathy for residents affected by Waste Management proposals to develop a new Auckland regional landfill south of Wellsford, in the Dome valley.

“I do understand how the local community feels,” Cr Hulse says.

“This is the reason I ended up as a councillor 30 years ago; I lived next to a landfill. I’m pretty motivated. But the answer is in our hands; it’s what we end up buying. She also pointed out that landfills are privately owned.

“No matter how we might feel about them, or petrol stations, or anything else, businesses and landowners have the right to come to Council with their requests. We can’t stop that.”

However, Cr Hulse says the Council waste plan makes it clear that it is doing everything within its remit to reduce the amount of rubbish sent to landfill and to reduce the need for landfills.

“With our drive to reach zero waste by 2040, the reality is that there will always be residual waste that goes to landfill, but we want to decrease the amount hugely,” she says.

“With landfills, our operating focus is on how to extend the life of those landfills and make them last as long as possible. And if our waste plan really kicks in, we can double or treble the life of existing sites.”
She says there is still considerable capacity at the Whitford landfill, in south Auckland, a joint venture between Waste Management and Council that is consented until 2041.

“I know we have got a lot of capacity there, and the more we do with our community recycling centres, the more the circular economy develops, the more packaging we reduce, then that’s going to extend that landfill space. That’s got to be our focus,” Cr Hulse says.

She said one of the key drivers towards achieving that goal had to be a significant increase in the fees charged to dump rubbish in landfill, something Council had long been pushing for.

“We have been lobbying for an increased waste levy for what feels like decades now.

“We made that a strong part of our waste plan and have been talking to (Environment Minister) Eugenie Sage.

“$10 a tonne is just way too low to act as a deterrent. It costs $170 a tonne in Sydney. If it’s more expensive to take waste to landfill, then it will encourage people to divert more waste using the circular economy. That’s our key. It’s not to push prices up for consumers and householders, it’s about driving business, particularly construction and demolition.”

Cr Hulse was hopeful that the Government was starting to take the proposal seriously.

Minister Eugenie Sage says a price hike for landfill dumping is in the pipeline and long overdue.

“As part of the waste disposal review, we will look at increasing the price,” Ms Sage says.

“When the Waste Minimisation Act was introduced in 2008, it was always intended that the levy would rise.

“However, nearly a decade later the levy remains set at the introductory price of $10 per tonne.”

She also noted that there were over 420 known landfills in New Zealand, but that the waste disposal levy applied to just 11 per cent of those.

Of the $30 million raised by the levy annually, half goes into Council to aid waste minimisation activities and half goes into the Waste Minimisation Fund to help business and groups reduce waste.

Landfills clean and sustainable, waste company claims

Waste Management managing director Tom Nickels maintains that landfill is not old technology.

Waste Management has hit back at suggestions that landfills are old technology and that New Zealand should be looking at incineration-based waste-to-energy systems that are preferred in other parts of the world.

Opponents of the waste disposal company’s plans to develop a new Auckland regional landfill, south of Wellsford, maintain that landfills belong in the past and are the least preferable option to get rid of rubbish for the future (Mahurangi Matters, Nov 28).

However, Waste Management managing director Tom Nickels says most people have a very dated image of how landfill operates and don’t know all the facts.

“We don’t share that view. There’s a lot of stuff bandied about, a lot of people say things with conviction, but they’re opinions, not facts.

“I don’t accept that they are old technology,” he said. “The media always uses, old and unattractive pictures of open mounds. It’s not like that now. Modern, sustainable landfill is a very high-tech, highly engineered, clean technology; it’s new technology.”

He said these days all the waste was enclosed and buried, and 95 per cent of the resulting methane gas was captured to make electricity.

“A large part of the world is still using landfill,” he said. “Countries similar to New Zealand, with similar living situations and standards, such as Australia and North America all use landfill, and they’re being built in parts of Asia.”

While some countries have adopted incineration technology, Mr Nickels said this approach didn’t suit all countries or societies.

“The reality is incineration has some significant drawbacks. One of them is the main reason that the Government and Minister are dead set against incineration, and that is that it’s a huge capital investment – you’re looking at $1 billion at least,” he said.

To justify capital investment of that scale would require a very long operating contract of at least 25 to 30 years, and a guaranteed supply of waste to fuel the plant, he added.

“That actually means if we were to do that as a country then we would be committing to needing to produce just as much waste as we do now, if not more, just to feed the beast.

“That’s in direct conflict with the ambitions of the Government, and of most people in New Zealand, to

Mr Nickels also denied an opinion voiced by some in the community that consent to develop the Dome valley landfill was already “a done deal”.

“That’s just not the case. This is a significant investment and project, and there are a lot of steps,” he said. “I can assure you there’s never been any backroom deals. Anyone who thinks so has been watching too many American TV shows.”

He added that he didn’t expect the resource consent application to be made before Christmas.

“There’s a lot of work to do, a number of different work streams, each involving our own engineers and technicians, but also engineering, environmental and legal consultancies. It will probably be February,” he said.

Mr Nickels added that while, in theory, Waste Management could try to make their application non-notifiable, the company was not planning to do that.

“We’re not even going to go down that path,” he said.


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