Getting into Waste

Getting into Waste

What happened to my plan to go room by room reducing waste you might have been wondering? I got as far as the bathroom – the kitchen was next. Meanwhile I attended workshops, read, listened and increased what I know about waste, especially in New Zealand. No surprises. Waste is depressing. The short version – the odd items that I use around the house that end up in landfill no longer fills me with angst. In the scheme of things, they make up a small proportion of waste. The state of waste in New Zealand is important though and there are things we can all do about it. Here’s the long version.

New Zealand’s Waste Problem

New Zealand is one of the highest creators of waste in the OECD – around 750kg per person per year. Auckland is even worse at around 1,000kg (1 tonne) (1) The average is 525kg. That’s not something we want to be good at! Only the USA and Denmark are ahead of us. If you’ve read my blog encouraging you to make a submission on reducing plastic waste you’ll know we’re up there with our plastic waste too, no surprise.

There isn’t great data about what goes to landfill as it doesn’t need to be recorded. What we do have is results from audits on domestic bins. Auckland Council has this great image of a typical household bin.

The data is from 2016 but smaller bin audits suggest it’s still relevant. (1)

Getting Organic Waste out of Landfill

45% of a typical bin is food waste and 10% is green waste (garden waste). That means 55% of the bin is made up of organic matter that could be composted.

Shockingly, 50% of the 45% food waste is food that could have been eaten (2) (maths – that’s about 22.5% of that whole bin). It’s food that wasn’t stored properly and went off or left overs that didn’t look appealing enough to eat. Love Food Hate Waste has more info on their website. Bread is the most wasted food. In our humid climate it gets mouldy quickly. We keep ours in the freezer and just pull out a few pieces at a time.

Why is organic matter (food and garden waste) in landfill bad news?

  • As it breaks down in the absence of oxygen methane is produced. Methane is a worse green house gas than carbon dioxide when it comes to climate change.
  • A massive amount of resource has gone into creating that food – energy, nutrients, water, transport and packaging, which is wasted.
  • Spending money on food simply to put it in the bin makes no economic sense. Love Food Hate Waste estimates that $644 is spent on wasted food per household per year. Remember – this is food waste. Food that could have been eaten, not food scrap like peelings, bones, onion skins and so on. (Yes, all of these can be put to good use and probably even eaten but they’re seen as ‘scrap’ not ‘waste’ in this context).
  • Organic matter is a valuable resource – it can be turned into compost and used to improve our soils to, guess what, grow more food. This is a proper cycle which doesn’t involve putting organic matter into landfill at a cost then buying bags of compost to grow food at an additonal cost. Doh!
  • Food waste via the insinkerator also ends up in landfill as large particles of food are screened off and sent to landfill. Remember – it doesn’t break down and emits methane. The treated water gets discharged into the ocean.

Some councils provide a domestic food waste pick up and Auckland Council is rolling it out from 2022. There are also easy ways to compost and keep your organic matter where it belongs. See Compost collective for an option to suit.

What you can do
Keep your organic matter (that includes paper and cardboard) out of your landfill bin.
You’ve halved the amount of waste going to landfill just like that!
Stop using your insinkerator

Domestic waste vs the rest

Domestic waste is just a small percentage of the total amount going to landfill however. In Auckland it’s around 14%. Here’s some more maths –

  • If we stop putting organic matter in our bins this will still only impact about 7-8% of the total going to landfill (ie 55% of 14% is 7-8%).
  • Get your recyclable items into the recycling bin. That’s about 1.4% of total volume that’s currently going to landfill (10% of 14% is 1.4%). While recycling is a good option (for now) rember that’s not a long term answer as energy and resource is required when recycling. I picture big business laughing at us as we scrub out our tomato sauce bottle and wash and dry our soft plastics like little ants at the bottom of the cliff. Reducing the amount of containers needing to be recycled and reusing them is is better. Legislation will help here (see container return scheme below). Still, in the meantime, recycle everything you can.
  • The amount of landfill stuff in our domestic bin is 35%. 35% of 14% is 4.9%. Let’s call it 5%. That’s all the stuff we angst about. Ear buds, that random broken thing. While it’s good to reduce this rubbish remember that it’s small in the scheme of things. 5%. Just buy less stuff so you don’t need to throw away packaging then rubbishy broken stuff.

Here’s my picture for those who’s brains froze reading those figures

Auckland domestic waste
What you can do
Reduce consumption
Buy long lasting products
Reduce packaging waste – especially food packaging
Purchase from companies who do the right thing
Don’t angst about your choices

What makes up the rest of the landfill volume?

If domestic waste is 14% of the total – what’s the remaining 86%?

  • Construction and demolition makes up a whopping 40-50% (3)
  • That leaves commercial/business waste as the rest – 34-44%

There’s only a little information and data around these sectors as it hasn’t historically been recorded. Here’s a few highlights –

  • Building a new house generates 4.5 tonnes of waste. Much of that could be diverted from landfill with a value of $31,000. It would take a typical household 30 years to make that much waste. (4)
  • Green Gorilla extracts 5 tonnes of nails and metal every day from it’s processing plant which is diverting construction and demolition waste. 1 tonne is a freekin lot. It’s 1,000 kg – a small car or cow could weigh 1 tonne (does that help picture it?)
  • The waste levy is a levy the government puts on waste going to landfill. It increased from $10 per tonne to $20 in July 2020. That’s still a cheap way to dispose of stuff. It’ll increase to $60 by 2024 which will make other options more viable. One of the ways the waste levy is spent is on innovative ways to reduce waste so we don’t have to spend money on getting rid of waste.

Alternatives to landfill

  • As I mentioned above – diverting construction, business and demoliton waste through resource recovery centres rather than sending everything to landfill is a no brainer.
  • Community recycling centres separate items at source and have less contaimination than a mixed kerbside option. Love the sound of the recycling truck picking up your bin and all that glass smashing into the truck with the paper, cardboard and plastic? Yikes.
  • A container return scheme is currently being proposed for NZ. What is it? A refundable deposit would be placed on beverage containers. Just like the old days. 2 billion single use beverage containers are currently used each year in NZ – many aren’t recycled, many end up as litter. Making them valuable would increase the rate of recycling as has been shown in countries who have this scheme. I’m all for it! Look out for public consultation this year.
  • Right to repair campaigns are increasing across the globe. In NZ Repair Cafe Aotearoa and Consumer are trying to (a) increase the durability of products and (b) make it easier to get something repaired. It’s becoming clear that manufacturers are making money by either making products that are cheaper to buy new than repair or require costly servicing (eg cars). Grrrrr!
What you can do
Have your say on submissions and legislation. Remember how we banned plastic bags? It really does work
– yes to increasing the waste levy
– yes to a container return scheme
– yes to Consumers Built to Last Campaign and Repair Cafe Aotearoa’s Right to Repair

Also –
Attend a Repair workshop
Visit your local community recycling centre

What next?

Waste is depressing when you get into the detail and learn about it’s impact but we can all individually and collectively make a difference. Have a look back over my ‘What you can do’ sections. Pick one thing and just do one thing.

Sources and resources

(1) Auckland Waste Management and Minimisation plan 2018 – Waste Management and Minimisation Plan (

(2) Love Food Hate Waste – Love Food Hate Waste

(3) Auckland Waste Management and Minimisation plan 2018

(4) Green Gorilla – Construction and Demolition | Auckland Recycling & Waste Solutions | Green Gorilla

Consumer – Why the Right to Repair is big news – Consumer NZ

Repair Cafe Aotearoa Right to Repair petition – Sign the petition: Our right to repair | Greenpeace Community Petitions

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