Those for whom the environment is something worth caring about – which should be everyone, since it's what sustains life and wellbeing – will be heartened by the series of positive moves coming from government and the courts recently.

In the past fortnight alone we've seen the rejection of undersea mining off Taranaki, to the benefit of the blue whales that breed there, and the announcement of a ban on single-use plastic bags, a logical follow-on from the ban on further offshore oil and gas exploration as well as a small step to protect oceanic life.

We've also been told of a proposed ban on mining on Department of Conservation land, which is actually a return to the pre-Key status quo; and the inclusion of water extraction as a factor to be considered for foreign purchases in a review of the Overseas Investment Act.

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That last is another Greens initiative, in part aimed at avoiding a repeat of Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage having to sign-off a purchase for water bottling in the Bay of Plenty because, by law, she was constrained from considering environmental impacts.

Meanwhile another council has pulled out of a proposed irrigation scheme – this time Tasman District because of cost blowouts for the planned Waimea River dam.

One suspects the dubious benefits of intensive irrigation probably also preyed on councillors' minds, much as it would have for Hawke's Bay regional council before the DoC land-swap issue gave them an excuse to shelve the Ruataniwha scheme.

Add these wins to the coalition government's bold first year moves to substantially increase DoC funding, launch a Climate Change Commission and a Zero Carbon Act, and pledge to shake up the Emissions Trading Scheme, the Resource Management Act and the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management, and you can hear a collective sigh of relief.

About bloody time, eh?

Not that the picture's anywhere near straightened yet, let alone dusted off to reveal clean, green colours, but these are important steps in a much-neglected direction.

Let's also not forget the billion trees scheme, locally embraced by the regional council in conjunction with Ngati Kahungunu through the new Kahutia Accord which will see 250,000ha of erosion-prone land reforested, bringing both environmental and economic benefits.

While I'm on the subject, a shout-out to farmers of the district: first, for being 90 per cent compliant with environmental management plans across the Ruataniwha basin by the due date, and second for their efforts in getting behind the initiative to make the Bay pest-free by 2040.

As HBRC CEO James Palmer says, these are steps in the "quantum shift" now under way toward full land-use regulation; that our rural communities are (finally) starting to put the environment first is a huge and welcome change.

However, one sore thumb issue which continues to dog all the Bay's councils – indeed, all New Zealand's - is waste. The reviewed joint Hastings and Napier waste management plan, in the process of being adopted, is pitifully underwhelming.

All it really does is deliver fancy new ways to collect people's rubbish; there's near-zero effort to minimise the waste-stream, and even less to do anything with it other than some token composting.

At a time when recycling has fallen off the bus because of China's refusal to continue accepting the world's plastic, but when innovative technologies are emerging to give councils some real low-volume options to deal with it themselves, Hawke's Bay doesn't need a nebulous action plan – we need actual action.

Central government may be turning the corner, but local government needs to up its game and follow. Or better, lead.