Auckland Council will roll out an updated Waste Minimisation Plan next month, which will plot the next steps in its journey towards achieving zero waste by 2040.
Under the draft plan, households and commercial operators who create a lot of waste will pay more through higher fees and charges. The construction industry, in particular, will be targeted. Households that reduce their waste will be rewarded with fewer charges.
Council is also committing to advocating at a national level for an increase in the waste levy (see below) and new product stewardship schemes for items such as beverage containers, tyres and electronic waste. It also proposes an Auckland-wide pay-as-you-throw system on household waste and a $67 targeted rate for food scraps collection, although the latter is not proposed for townships in Rodney at this stage.
Households in the former Papakura, North Shore and Waitakere areas already pay an average of $135 on pay-as-you-throw refuse services (bags and now bins). Council says there is a direct and visible connection between how much waste a household generates and how much it pays.
Although household waste dropped by 10 per cent between 2010 and 2016, there has been a large increase in commercial waste, especially from the construction and demolition industries. As a result, total waste to landfill has increased by 40 per cent per capita since 2010.
In 2016, the city sent 1.646 tonnes of domestic and commercial waste to landfill – more than one tonne per Aucklander. According to the Minimisation Plan, waste activities currently cost ratepayers $91 million a year.
The draft plan identifies that some of the barriers to waste minimisation include the low cost of landfilling compared to diverting waste to other productive uses, the lack of financial incentives to divert waste from landfill, the lack of influence by Council over the 80 per cent of waste that is commercially managed, and rapid population growth.
The plan proposes a target of a 30 per cent reduction in all waste by 2027, with a target to reduce domestic kerbside refuse from 110kg to 88kg per capita per year by 2028. The focus will be on reducing three priority waste streams – commercial construction and demolition waste; organic waste; and plastics. The plan also puts an emphasis on partnership and engagement with other sectors to address these waste streams.
Council hopes to lead by example, reducing its own office waste by 60 per cent by 2024. Residents will have a month to provide feedback on the plan, from February 28 to March 28.
What is the waste levy?
The $10 per tonne waste disposal levy is set by the Department of Environment and is paid by disposal facility operators. About $10 to $12 million is collected annually. Half of the money raised in Auckland is returned to Auckland Council ($6.1 million in 2016) to spend on waste minimisation activities, while the balance is distributed through a national Waste Minimisation Fund. The Waste Levy Action Group, a consortium of public and private sector organisations representing the waste sector, concludes that increasing the levy should be a matter of priority for the government. It predicts that an increased levy of $140 per tonne for landfills, $15 for cleanfill and managed fill, and $40 for incineration, would bring the best results for reduced waste to landfill, increased recycling, job creation and increased economic activity.
How much will ratepayers pay?
The development of a network of resource recovery centres is seen as a crucial step in addressing the 80 per cent of waste that goes to landfill, which is not directly controlled by Auckland Council.
There are five resource centres in Auckland, with plans to expand this to 12 by 2024. The future of the two local transfer stations at Lawrie Road in Snells Beach and Rustybrook Road in Wellsford, which are owned by Council but leased by Northland Waste, will form part of this discussion.
The lease on both facilities is up for renewal this year and the newly-formed Mahurangi Wastebusters is one of the parties that has submitted an Expression of Interest for both sites.
Spokesperson Trish Allen would like to see resource recovery centres established in Mahurangi, similar to the Helensville model.
“Helensville is diverting about 70 per cent of waste away from landfill, compared to commercial operators where the figure is more like 30 per cent,” she says. “A centre run by the community will mean money raised will go back to the community. It also offers opportunities for education and volunteer support, as well as pathways to employment for people with barriers to employment.”
Northland Waste managing director Ray Lambert says his company supports the intent of the waste plan, and has a real willingness to work with Mahurangi Wastebusters to create a win-win outcome.
“We are locally-owned, employ 250 people between Wellington and Kaitaia, and provide a service community-wide, as well as sponsoring many local organisations and events.”
Mr Lambert says of the four community recycling centres operating in Auckland – Devonport, Helensville, Waitakere and Waiuku – Waiuku is often cited as the flagship.
“But Council pays the Waiuku operators over $250,000 a year. Meanwhile, Council pays Northland Waste nothing and we achieve the same, if not better, diversion results. If Council commissioned robust environmental and economic rationale, they would know this – but they don’t want to. In fact, Council hides the subsidies it pays out.”
Mr Lambert believes the most efficient provider should run the landfills.
“The 70 per cent recovery rate quoted for community recycling centres doesn’t take into account the fact that they don’t handle waste from the kerbside collection or commercial waste,” he says. “If you removed that from the waste stream at Lawrie Road and Rustybrook Road, then our recovery rates are as good, if not better.”
Northland Waste, which has been in the waste business in Rodney for more than 20 years, is concerned that Council’s approach will come at a hefty cost to ratepayers.
“Rodney rates pay for Council’s recycling service, that’s all, and we believe if we were given the opportunity, we could do that service for about half the price. We don’t get paid by Council for anything we do – from the orange bags to the commercial waste, it’s all done on a user pays system. Council is trying to set one policy for the whole of Auckland, but rural areas like Rodney need different services.
“We totally get the concept of resource recovery – Council scrapped the cardboard collection because they said it wasn’t viable, but we continued it. We also recover and re-sell scrap metal, glass, greenwaste and cardboard – we’re struggling to understand what we’re doing that’s not consistent with the waste plan. We’re not looking for a free pass and have consistently stated that if we can’t offer a competitive waste collection solution in the communities we operate in, then we don’t deserve to be there.”
Northland Waste chair Colin Cashmore says the company offered to invest $2 million to upgrade the Lawrie Road station, but Council has yet to accept the offer.