Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman: Council's 'meaningless' zero waste plan

Zero Waste is up there with World Peace and Black Caps beating Australia on the never-going-to-happen list. Photo / Thinkstock
Zero Waste is up there with World Peace and Black Caps beating Australia on the never-going-to-happen list. Photo / Thinkstock

For years, the bush dwellers of the western fringes kidded themselves that by claiming eco-city status they were automatically greener than the rest of us, not prone to the farting and burping and discarding of shopping detritus of lesser isthmus Aucklanders.

It's good the drafters of Auckland Council's new rubbish disposal plan seem to have binned the "eco-city" slogan, but dispiriting that they've succumbed to something equally meaningless, the goal of "Zero Waste".

Admittedly they could hardly do anything else seeing as, just a few days ago, they ticked off the Auckland Plan, which has among its assorted visions "the long-term aspirational goal of Zero Waste by 2040".

Of course, the word "aspirational" was an admission of defeat before the ink on the plan was even dry, putting Zero Waste up there with World Peace and Black Caps beating Australia on the never-going-to-happen list.

A few pages into the draft Waste Management and Minimisation Plan, it's apparent achieving zero waste is mainly a game of semantics. What was called "waste" is now split into various piles of good stuff called recyclables, and a smaller (and if the council has its way, diminishing) pile of nasty stuff which retains the word "waste".

And that's where it gets over-complicated. Instead of treating all waste as waste, which it is to me and presumably anyone else who has thrown the stuff out, the council bureaucrats want householders to divide all the various components of their waste into separate bins then wheel them all out on special days, to be taken away by a variety of collectors to a variety of destinations.

Of course, most of us go through one form or other of this waste separation already but now the council wants to create a similar model for the whole Super City and, in so doing (in my case at least), add another bin or two to the mix. They also want to complicate things further by making collection of "good" waste something you get free (paid by rates), while "bad" waste is surcharged separately.

It gets worse. There's talk of dividing organic waste into "green waste" and "food waste" bins, apparently to appease some existing private green waste collectors.

Speaking practically, I don't want yet another bin - two if the organic stuff is to be divided - to store away on my pocket-size property. I don't want to live in a street where every house or flat has to clutter the street once a week (or once every two weeks in some cases) with three or four bins apiece.

Unfortunately, in an industry dominated by private operators, all the council can do is tinker with the existing fragmented system of collection and disposal, and hide its impotence behind slogans.

To me, the more waste that is composted and recycled the better. But if the politicians are serious about Auckland becoming the world's most liveable city, do they really think forcing citizens to run a mini-recycling factory in every backyard is a step toward that goal. We're a city, not a farmyard. What next - compulsory chooks in every garden?

In Europe, MBT - Mechanical Biological Treatment - appears to be taking off. You toss your household waste into one bin and off it goes to a centralised processing plant which does all the recycling mechanically, composting the organic material in purpose-built houses, separating out the plastic, the bottles, you name it. It seems so civilised and 21st century compared to the Heath Robinson solution we're being offered.

One bright spot in the report, which goes before today's council meeting, is mention that "Council in-house waste reduction is strongly supported" and that "all events organised by Council be run as Zero Waste events".

One council-run venue I often frequent is The Edge and each time I'm annoyed, for all sort of reasons, for being made to drink my interval tipple out of a cheap, disposable plastic receptacle. It's certainly not world-class. It's not classy, full stop. It certainly is wasteful. Hundreds of these nasty plastic "glasses" must be tipped after every show at the Town Hall and Aotea Centre. If councillors are serious about setting an example, what better place to start?

- NZ Herald

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Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman's first news story was for Auckland University student paper Outspoke, exposing an SIS spy on campus during the heady days of the Vietnam War. It resulted in a Commission of Inquiry and an award for student journalist of the year. A stint editing the Labour Party's start-up Auckland newspaper NZ Statesman followed. Rudman decided journalism was the career for him, but the NZ Herald and Auckland Star thought otherwise when he came job-hunting. After a year on the "hippy trail" overland to London, he spent four years on Fleet St with various British provincial papers. He then joined the Auckland Star, winning the Dulux Journalist of the Year award for coverage of the 1976 Dawn Raids against Polynesian overstayers. He has also worked on the NZ Listener, Auckland Sun, and since 1996, for the NZ Herald as feature writer and columnist. He has a BA in History and Politics.

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