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Nationwide campaign against burning rubbish launched

Today, community groups throughout the country led by the Zero Waste Network have launched a national campaign against waste-to-energy incinerators. The centrepiece of this campaign is a petition to the Minister for the Environment David Parker requesting that he intervene and decline all new applications for incinerators in Aotearoa New Zealand.

“Now is the time for a national approach to this issue to make it clear that we don’t want waste dumps full of hazardous incinerator ash across the country. New Zealanders want a zero waste future, not a toxic waste landscape,” said Zero Waste Network Chairman, Marty Hoffart.

The campaign was initiated in response to increasing interest by international incineration corporate interests to set up shop here in New Zealand. At present, the group is aware of two proposals under consideration: one in Hokitika and the other in Huntly. Wellington City Council has included incineration as a potential replacement for its Southern Landfill, which is nearing the end of its useful life. There have also been discussions in the Kaipara region and New Plymouth.

The national Waste Levy Review conducted in 2017 showed that New Zealanders are producing significantly more waste than they did a decade ago. Furthermore, communities and local councils around the country are grappling with stockpiles of recycling that have resulted from restricted international markets for plastics, soft plastics, and contaminated paper and cardboard.

Mr Hoffart believes that, “The answer to these problems is not burning rubbish. Rather, we need to phase out the types of materials we can’t recycle by introducing mandatory product stewardship schemes like those currently being considered by the Government. We need to commit to real recycling and support local councils to move towards a circular economy.”

“Waste-to-energy incineration actually turns ordinary household rubbish into toxic waste that must be disposed of in a special hazardous waste landfill. As an example, the West Coast produces only about 4,000 tonnes of waste each year. But importing waste to feed the proposed Hokitika incinerator would leave the town with more than 10,000 tonnes of toxic ash and sludge which would need to be carefully managed for generations in a hazardous waste landfill.”

Incineration proponents claim that today’s incinerators are much cleaner and more efficient than their highly polluting forebears, which are currently being shut down because of the newly discovered health risks. But even the latest incinerators still pollute, albeit within national standards.

“The difficulty is that most of the pollutants coming out of an incinerator, including heavy metals and dioxins, persist in the environment,” says Hoffart. “While exhaust gases may be within limits when they leave the smokestack, they fall on the land and wash into our waterways where they can accumulate to toxic levels and enter our food chain risking a myriad of damaging health and environmental effects.

But probably the most damning indictment on incinerators is that most of the gas leaving the smokestack is in the form of climate changing carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide is currently Public Enemy Number One as we face the threat of climate change, including predicted sea level rise, food chain disruption and mass extinction across the planet.

Jacqui Forbes, Kaihautū Matua for Māori zero waste organisation Para Kore, says “Incineration is like creating a landfill in the sky. We need to look after Ranginui and Papatūānuku by returning to closed loop living where rubbish is not part of the design.”

“Our responsibility is to protect our environment for future generations. The children of tomorrow are relying on us to do the right thing and mitigate climate change to the greatest possible extent. We need to grab hold of every opportunity we possibly can to eliminate sources of greenhouse gas emissions - incineration is one of those sources. It just doesn’t make sense to burn waste.”

For Rubbish Trip zero waste campaigner Hannah Blumhardt, it’s all about resources. “Every day, we meet with young people to talk about the importance of conserving our precious resources. We live on a finite planet and just can’t continue on the linear trajectory we’ve been on for the past hundred years,” she says. “Our planet just cannot sustain this. We need to redesign our systems and many of our products to reflect circular economy principles and ensure everything we do protects and regenerates the Earth. Incineration is completely at odds with these principles.”

“Governments and businesses across the globe are increasingly endorsing the concept of a circular economy, which aims to replace our old linear ‘take-make-waste’ approach to production with a new paradigm that designs out waste. This new system would copy the way nature does things with the aim of keeping biological and non-biological resources circulating in the economy through endlessly cycles. For example, old products and broken components are returned to producers for remanufacture. Added to this, packaging is infinitely recyclable or reusable, and organic waste is composted to grow the next generation of food. In contrast, waste-to-energy incinerators are a dinosaur technology that locks the linear system in place by creating an incentive to keep wasting.”

While circular systems are much better for the environment, they’re also good for people by creating many more employment opportunities than linear systems. For example, international zero waste think tank RREUSE has calculated that in addition to destroying valuable resources, incinerators also destroy jobs. Their research has found that for every one job at an incinerator, a community recycling centre creates 36 jobs and reuse activities create 296 jobs.

“This is why we are seeking a clear directive from central government that waste-to-energy is off the table,” says Hoffart. “And we’re asking New Zealanders to join us by adding their signature to our petition.” The petition can be found at https://our.actionstation.org.nz/petitions/regeneration-not-incineration

If you’d like to learn more about the circular economy, the Sustainable Business Network has released a wide range of resources at https://sustainable.org.nz/the-circular-economy/. For more information about incineration visit the Zero Waste Network website: http://zerowaste.co.nz/waste-to-energy-incineration/

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