The Auckland Council's goal to significantly reduce landfill waste and increase recycling has strong support in principle from our waste management businesses, I am told. But there's a big problem.
To achieve its goal of zero waste to landfill by 2040, the council is proposing to enter the commercial waste market business in competition with private sector operators.
In doing so, it has ignored a waste management review it commissioned last year recommending it should avoid setting up a business service that could duplicate existing successful private sector services.
The review said while commercial waste needed to be part of the council's focus, additional costs needed to be justified, especially their value in reducing wider environmental impacts. It said there must be cost-effective waste minimisation and diversion options.
Yet inexplicably, the council has failed to undertake a cost-benefit assessment testing whether its waste reduction and recycling goals can be achieved more efficiently and effectively by the private sector than through a competing council-owned operation.
The council's only reason to enter the market is if there is market failure. Ignoring advice that establishing a commercial operation would be in conflict with its key role as market regulator is misguided and doomed to fail.
But it gets worse. The plan involves seeking an increased waste levy from central government (ie taxpayers) without clear evidence that this is required and without testing whether the private sector could deliver the up-scaled service without the need to seek an increased waste levy.
The council is also proposing to cut general rubbish collection to a fortnightly service and introduce a new weekly food waste collection that will cost all residents $67 a year as a targeted rate. Even if households compost food waste themselves, they won't be able to opt out of this service and will have to pay. There is no indication of what the council is going to do with the about 90,000 tonnes of food waste it intends to collect and divert from landfill.
Reducing services but increasing costs with no environmental gains is stupid — and won't help Aucklanders have confidence in their council. It will only encourage more illegal dumping, which has surged in recent months under the council's approach.
Some local and central government representatives think only they have tinges of green in their blood but let me assure them business is increasingly environmentally conscious and responsible, and many have sustainability targets and best practice written into their business plans.
It is obvious to me that both the private sector and the council want to deliver the best possible environmental gains and a higher recycling rate.
The first step should involve forming a shared council-waste industry partnership setting out what each other's role and responsibilities are.
A proven model would mean the council's role is to set and administer Auckland's waste management regulations, the industry's role is to deliver services efficiently in a way that achieves positive environmental outcomes.
The private sector is proven to be more efficient and innovative. The Rodney area has had a full user-pays, private provider waste system for some years. It has the highest rates of recycling in Auckland.
There is no rationale for the council trying to compete, let alone undercut efficient and effective residential and commercial services by using rates to subsidise its own services and take them out.
If the council adopts the long-term waste management plan in its present form it risks repeating mistakes made by the former Waitakere City Council in the 1990s which ignored advice and ended up losing control of their waste and recycling functions, costing ratepayers millions of dollars.
An inquiry conducted by Denis Lane found Waitakere's EcoPlan contract was a classic example of ideology overriding operational realities with a recommendation that history should never be repeated.
Auckland's waste management goals will only succeed long-term if the council and the private sector find a way to work together. They must find a way to do that. Projections leading to the council adopting a zero-waste policy indicate that with Auckland's current rapid population and housing growth, the amount of waste disposal to landfill will almost double within 10 years to 3 million tonnes.
A just-released report by the Ministry for the Environment, however, shows that the waste sector is now down on 1990 greenhouse gas emission levels, despite our growth, due especially to better recycling methods.
That strikes me as a major success and absolutely contradicts why Auckland Council needs to interfere and compete.
• Michael Barnett is chief executive of the Auckland Business Chamber of Commerce.