By MATHEW DEARNALEY
World leaders of a burgeoning coalition of industrialists and ecologists will descend on Kaitaia early next month for the country's second annual Zero Waste conference.
Topping the bill will be Tachi Kiuchi, a former managing director of Japan's Mitsubishi Electric Corporation. He chairs Future 500, a group of big United States firms at the sharp edge of a sustainable development revolution.
The 65-year-old executive, a marathon runner and skydiver, decided to help set his company on the path to sustainability, relying on knowledge rather than raw materials, after falling asleep at the wheel of his car and driving over a cliff.
Reflecting in hospital on his brush with death, he concluded that the global business community was similarly driving towards a cliff, its eyes closed.
He and other conference guests from the US, Britain and Australia are keen to come here to study a bold campaign to turn New Zealand into a waste-free society by 2015, reusing everything that would now be dumped in landfills.
Although it might sound wishful thinking, 26 district and city councils making up one-third of the country's local authorities have already joined the cause, qualifying for $25,000 grants from the Zero Waste trust.
The trust, which also finances community projects and has given away almost $1 million, is heavily backed by the Tindall Foundation but receives some money from the Ministry for the Environment and private donors.
Environment Minister Marian Hobbs is expected during the three-day conference to issue a public discussion paper on waste minimisation, from a working party convened by her ministry and Local Government NZ.
The paper will canvass the possibility of national landfill levies, such as are already imposed by Christchurch City Council to finance a sophisticated recycling operation.
Christchurch's Recovered Materials Foundation, which receives $4 to $5 for every tonne of dumped rubbish, is researching ways of turning ground waste glass and plastics into local industries rather than exporting them as raw commodities.
Zero Waste director Warren Snow said many people were eyeing New Zealand as a potential world leader in sustainability because it was rich in ideas yet small enough to accommodate new technologies and practices.
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By MATHEW DEARNALEY