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Incinerator Proposal A Climate Time-bomb

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has officially advised Environment Minister Penny Simmonds to ‘call in’ the resource consent application for a large incinerator plant that has been proposed for Te Awamutu. Calling in the proposal would enable climate change impacts to be properly considered when deciding whether it should go ahead.

“The EPA advice recognises that the GHG emissions generated by large incinerators have national and global effects,” says Zero Waste Network’s Sue Coutts.

“These rubbish incinerators are climate timebombs that emit large amounts of greenhouse gases because they burn fossil carbon based plastic and rubber tyre waste.”

“The Te Awamutu incinerator application needs to be called in by Minister Simmonds so that GHG emissions can be factored into the decision making process.”

The EPA advice says, "...due to the potential greenhouse emissions associated with the matters, we consider that they may contribute to significant changes to the environment, including the global environment." (Section 43 on p8 of the advice)

“The Te Awamutu rubbish incinerator proposal would burn millions of tyres and a large volume of plastic feedstock which are not a source of renewable energy.”

The EPA notes the planned use of plastics as a major input, “the estimated GHG emissions are higher than that estimated for the larger proposed facility in Waimate…” (Section 34 on p7 of the advice).

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Independent New Zealand-based research backs up the findings of the EPA, and provides solid evidence for a moratorium on waste-to-energy incineration.

Environmental consultancy Eunomia’s 2023 report, Waste to energy technology implications in the Aotearoa New Zealand context uses specific scenarios with different waste inputs to measure the climate change impacts.

The report says, “The key takeaway from the modelling is that if the waste that is treated has a high fossil carbon content (for example plastics or rubber), then WtE technologies will have higher carbon emissions than landfill. It should be noted that this situation aligns most closely with New Zealand’s current policy and strategy settings.”

The report goes on to say that, “a strong level of sanction, and legislative and/or regulatory instruments” may be required to stop proposals going forward that do not have a clear carbon benefit and that stand in the way of a circular economy.”

“This is why a moratorium on waste-to-energy incineration for mixed rubbish is essential. said Sue Coutts. “We need a strong signal from this government that they are serious about driving positive innovation and development by moving towards a circular economy, minimising waste and reducing emissions.”

“This would align us with our European trading partners who are beginning to shift away from incineration so they can achieve their recycling and emissions reduction targets.”

“It would set a clear and consistent direction of travel for Aotearoa. Key national guidance documents like the New Zealand Waste Strategy, the Climate Commission’s Advice to the Government on the second Emissions Reduction Plan and the Infrastructure Strategy all point to the need to carefully consider the role of incineration in relation to renewable energy goals and emissions reduction commitments.”


Environmental Protection Agency advice and recommendations to Minister Penny Simmonds:

Eunomia report Waste to energy technology implications in the Aotearoa New Zealand context :

Ministry for the Environment - Te Rautaki Para - Waste Strategy March 2023 p

(In July 2023 page 46 of Te Rautaki para was updated to specifically include incineration alongside pyrolysis and gasification.)

Climate Change Commission - Draft Advice on Emissions Reduction Plan 2 - Dec 2023 p153-154

Infrastructure Commission - Rautaki Hanganga o Aotearoa New Zealand Infrastructure Strategy 2022-2052

Europe - Denmark - Reducing Incinerator capacity in order to meet recycling targets and GHG emissions reduction targets.

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