Kaitaia used to lead New Zealand in recycling and waste recovery, but we're currently lagging behind best practice. Even with recycling, we are dumping rubbish at an ever-increasing rate. Auckland's Redvale tip is expected to be full by 2026, and a resource consent to create a new mega dump in Dome Valley has been lodged with the Auckland Council, stirring up local opposition.

Trouble is, what happens in Auckland doesn't necessarily stay in Auckland. The nearby Hoteo River could potentially transfer any toxic leachate downriver to its mouth, where seagrass provides cover and sustenance for 90 per cent of the North Island's baby snapper. So even if the proposed dump site isn't in Northland, it has potential for messing with much more than our fishing.

The Kaipara Harbour is already being bombarded with around 750,000 tonnes of sediment running off highly erodible pasture and river banks. Nitrogen and phosphorus runoff creates other issues, including algae blooms. While your regional council has recently doubled its effort (and budget) to reduce this, there is nothing we can do to protect the Kaipara's already challenged ecosystem from the effects of a major leachate spill.

Nobody would have predicted the environmental disaster on the West Coast when nearly the entire contents of an old Fox Glacier landfill got washed down the river by a massive storm, spewing its contents over hundreds of kilometres of once pristine coastline. It's understandable that Kaipara Mayor Jason Smith is on the warpath about this dump site, and with local iwi putting a rahui on further development the issue is starting to get the attention it deserves.

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But there's a wider issue here — us and our bad habits. Why do we create so much rubbish? What can we do to reduce our waste at both an individual and community level?

Individually we can assess and change our purchasing habits.

Kaitaia's Saturday market gives us an opportunity to buy local produce and products while using a reusable bag instead of a plastic one. Buying local supports our local economy. We can choose not to buy products with excessive packaging, and seriously consider whether we actually need that product in the first place.

Kaitaia used to lead New Zealand in recycling and waste recovery, but we're currently lagging behind best practice. This could easily be addressed if the district council's waste contract was split into reduction, reuse, recycling, recovery, and finally disposal to landfill. There also needs to be a budget for waste minimisation education and promotions/marketing. The Eco-Centre's Plastic-Free July has shown that flaxroots initiatives can have a big impact on behaviour. A local initiative to take green waste, then mix it with food scraps to create compost, has started, but needs some serious support to divert these methane-producing materials from landfills.

Council elections are coming up, and this is your chance to question future councillors on whether they support a better way to reduce and manage our waste. And if you like fishing, you know what's at stake.

(These are my personal opinions, not the official position of the NRC).

■mikef@nrc.govt.nz