Sam Judd

Comment on the environment from nzherald.co.nz columnist Sam Judd

Sam Judd: More mining please

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I am lucky enough to have sailed around several Pacific Islands, where I have witnessed on approach how idyllic golden sands nestled against palm trees are from a distance.

Unfortunately though, it was a case of good from far, but far from good, when it comes to waste.

While the tourism brochures continue to pump out fantastical imagery of islands in the sun, the reality is that there are thousands of tonnes of plastic wrapped products that are exported from New Zealand to the Pacific Islands where communities have no waste management system whatsoever.

With tourism being one of the few opportunities for island nations such as New Zealand and in the South Pacific to truly compete on the world scale, investing in solutions for waste is imperative.

All of these places need economic development, so bring on the mining if we want to turn our resources in profits.

Landfill mining that is.

When the right systems are in place, the materials that consumers are finished with should no longer be considered as waste. In Sweden, they are so efficient with their resources that only 4% of consumer waste goes to landfill. Everything else is either reprocessed or turned into energy and heat. The Swedes are so good at it that they are even importing waste from their Nordic neighbours.

These high tech systems take solid municipal waste and make it into clean fuel, syngas, heat and the leftovers are a high-value construction material.

Wouldn't it be great if we processed our waste into fuel, energy and heat and why are we not already doing this?

The problem is economies of scale. To build the kind of machine that Advanced Plasma Power makes requires a huge amount of feedstock - we simply don't have enough in little ol' New Zealand to make it worth it.

Ever since my South Pacific sojourns by sailboat, it has been a dream of mine to solve the waste problems faced by the islands.

So how about, instead of wrapping up our recyclables in more plastic and sending them to Asia on diesel hungry boats, we collaborate with Australia and all of the islands in the South Pacific to bring their waste here so we can turn it to energy?

Auckland is already the hub for the Pacific Islands shipping trade, and at 177,936 people the largest Pacific population in the world lives there.

The containers that we fill up with corned beef, mutton flaps, turkey tails (mostly stuff that dog food companies wouldn't even take) and milk powder are coming back to our shores empty.

If we back-loaded the shipping lines with waste, then on top of solving our neighbours challenges, we might have enough waste to build one of these fantastic systems. Shipping companies can be encouraged to do this by giving them biodiesel that is produced by the gasification machine.

All of New Zealand's waste could be sent north on the rail network, taking trucks off the road, making it safer, cleaner and cheaper to deal with communities' rubbish.

There is already an unused gas line underneath Auckland city, so the syngas produced in the plant could be efficiently transported.

This may require the use of a significant space in the Ports of Auckland, but Tauranga seems to be eclipsing them these days anyway and this could be hugely profitable - allowing Tauranga to focus on goods, and feeding our biggest city with some of the vast energy that it devours.

This idea has the potential to drastically improve the long-term sustainability of the tourism sector (that we spend millions on annually to support), while also delivering crucial energy security to Auckland.

Pulling off this dream is going to take a team of dedicated innovators that can deal with international negotiations, obvious biosecurity issues and logistics.

I am keen to at least work out if this is feasible.

Is anyone out there interested in helping? Put a comment in below or drop me an email.

Sam Judd is the Young New Zealander of the Year and Co Founder and CEO of The Sustainable Coastlines Charitable Trust - Supreme Green Ribbon Award Winners of 2013.

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