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Speech Notes Launch of The Landfall Census LHCC



In the not so distant past this country seemed to be full of rubbish dumps. Every city and every town had at least one. Big ones small ones, utilising handy gullies, swamps, the slopes of river terraces and unused gravel pits. Even small country settlements had their local tip. Uncontrolled, uncovered tip faces, rat infested, smelly, often burning, leaking leachate to local streams; they were not a pretty sight.

Progress has been made since these not so good, not so old days. When the Ministry for the Environment undertook the first national landfill census in 1995, it was clear that the requirements of the Resource Management Act were beginning to bite. Change was happening.

To monitor trends and to see if landfill management practice was improving it was agreed that another census should be prepared in two to three years. The second national landfill census was conducted between November 1998 and January 1999.

The 1998/99 census indicates that improvements in landfill practice have occurred since 1995 but that practice, in many places, still falls short of the standards expected by the Government and local communities. The inadequacies identified are varied and scattered throughout the country. The Government is disappointed with the results from several regions in New Zealand.

On a more positive note – the Government is encouraged by the progress that has been made in some areas. It is evident in some regions that landfill management is improving and that this trend is likely to continue. In some areas further large, modern landfills are being planned. It is my view that the journey toward best practice is just beginning. We can all see progress but we all know there is still a long way to go.

The Government expects to see significant improvement over the next ten years. The speech from the throne has highlighted the Government’s commitment to this:
Waste management is an environmental matter, which needs stronger action. It will be a requirement that by the year 2010 all waste management shall be on a full cost recovery basis and all existing landfills are upgraded or closed.
Some councils have adopted a policy of working towards zero waste. I applaud their vision. In the foreseeable future however, landfills will form an important element in an integrated approach to waste reduction and management. For as long as we do have landfills we need to see that they are sensibly sited, well designed and well managed.

I wish to see the legacy of poorly sited and poorly managed landfills phased out altogether. I expect to see all operating landfills having liners, site-based management plans, leachate management controls, stormwater management, groundwater and surface water monitoring, aftercare management plans, cover requirements, litter fences, site security and other specific requirements based on the individual site characteristics.

Not only do I expect to see better management of open landfills I also expect the management of closed landfills to be looked at very carefully. It is apparent that there are a large number of closed landfills - and more will be closing over the next few years - in New Zealand. The Ministry is concerned by the data in the census that closed landfills are not being adequately managed. There is a view held by some that once a landfill is no longer accepting waste it no longer poses a risk to the environment. This belief is completely untrue and this attitude must be changed. It is widely accepted internationally that landfills can continue to affect the environment 30 – 50 years after closure. It is our collective responsibility to ensure that this risk is managed very carefully.

For its part the Government wants to work closely with local government and other interests to help improve landfill management. A number of objectives are set out in the national Landfill Census Report. These objectives are for:

 All landfills to be consented and compliant with consent conditions;
 Landfill conditions to reflect nationally consistent standards of environmental management;
 The practice of landfill burning to be banned;
 All landfills to be managed by trained operators;
 Hazardous wastes to be effectively managed and controlled;
 Closed landfills sites to be monitored and effectively managed; and
 The true cost of landfill management to be met through the correct pricing of landfill disposal.

There may be some debate around these objectives but we do need something to aim for and something against which progress can be measured. In response to information in the census and the commitments made by the Government, the Ministry for the Environment is developing a work programme on landfill management. I will outline some of the specific issues the Ministry plans to target:

Resource consent conditions

The census found that there are inconsistencies in the setting of resource consent conditions throughout the country. Resource consent conditions need to be consistent in their coverage of critical issues but also flexible enough to ensure the management of environmental risk on a site-specific basis.

The Ministry considers this a priority area for the coming year and, in consultation with local government, proposes to develop guidelines covering the review and modification of existing consent conditions, the development of consent conditions for new landfills, and enforcement of consent conditions.

Resource consent breaches

This census showed that a significant number of all consented landfills had breached their resource consent conditions since 1995. The census also showed a lack of apparent enforcement of this non-compliance by regional councils. The census does not allow us to assess the relative risk of each incident of non-compliance. Nor does it indicate what informal actions councils may be taking. But the data in the census does suggest that some regional councils need to take a more vigorous approach to enforcement when breaches of consent conditions occur. There are provisions in the RMA that councils can make good use of. The guidelines mentioned previously will outline how these provisions could be used effectively.

The management of hazardous wastes

As in 1995, the latest census identified that there is a lack of control for the acceptance of hazardous waste at landfills throughout the country. Inconsistent recording systems and poor site management practice are still issues at many landfill sites.

The Government has accepted that there is a need for a national approach to the management of hazardous wastes. The Ministry for the Environment has recently produced a draft definition of hazardous wastes. With the cooperation of some regional councils and local authorities, the draft definition will be tested through a series of pilot studies, this year.

Work has also already started on the development of waste acceptance criteria for different groups of hazardous wastes and on a method for the national classification of landfills.

This work will help councils and operators develop a nationally consistent approach to hazardous wastes management.

Open burning of landfills

Landfill burning has decreased since the last census but about one quarter of all landfills reported burning in 1998.

Burning wastes at landfills, whether accidental or intentional, can give offence to neighbours and have significant environmental, health and safety effects. The release of dioxin and other airborne contaminants is associated with landfill burning.

I would like to see regional councils take a firmer line to controlling landfill burning. Better public understanding of the effects of burning could reduce the incident of deliberate burning and the Ministry for the Environment is interested in working with councils on the idea of an education programme.

Because burning is such a significant source of dioxins, the proposed national Environmental Standard covering dioxin emissions is likely to ban landfill burning.

Closed landfills

The census has identified that closed landfill management is being undertaken in an ad hoc manner throughout the country. The census has also identified that there needs to be a better understanding and analysis of closed landfill management nation-wide. The management of closed landfill sites is of increasing importance with many smaller tips closing or having closed in the last few years.

With the assistance of local government, the Ministry proposes to develop a Guide to Manage Closed Landfills. This work should assist local authorities in landfill aftercare management, rehabilitation, monitoring and record keeping. The guidelines will also help councils implement the proposed accounting standard (which is expected to be released by the Institute of Chartered Accountants New Zealand in July 2000), which assesses landfill liability and the need for councils to address environmental liabilities in their financial statements.

True cost of waste disposal

The full costing of waste disposal and user charges that reflect these costs is a critical element of an integrated approach to waste management. Underpricing encourages waste disposal and discourages waste minimisation. However, the questions in the census questionnaire did not allow for a full assessment of whether environmental considerations were included in the cost of waste disposal. The development of the accounting standard will encourage local authorities to account for environmental liabilities in their financial statements. This means that local authorities will need to identify and assess the full costs of both currently operating and closed landfill sites.

Environmental liabilities for landfills that have already closed are more difficult to assess. The Ministry intends to modify its Landfill Full Costing Guide to take into account closure and post closure costs. The Ministry will give further consideration to closed landfill costings, in consultation with local authorities, once the accounting standard has been formally released later this year.


The Government wants to see a significant reduction in the volume of waste going to landfills and further improvements in landfill management.

In achieving these objectives, we’re going to work with local government, communities, waste management companies and the groups involved in recovering and recycling waste. Not only does the Government wish to improve landfill management in New Zealand, it wishes to improve overall waste management practices including reducing waste at source and developing opportunities for waste minimisation.

The Government wishes to see integrated waste management become the accepted philosophy for all levels of Government in New Zealand.

The Ministry began discussing a partnership approach to waste issues with Local Government New Zealand several weeks ago. Both Louise Rosson, the President of Local Government New Zealand and I are in favour of the initiative. An initial meeting of local government representatives and other parties will be held next month to consider the practical implications of a partnership approach.

The Government intends to work hard to get results – and it expects local government and others involved in waste management to do the same. I look forward to watching the progress we make together.

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