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Topic 8: Waste

Waste represents a loss of resources, both in the form of materials and energy. The treatment and disposal of waste may cause environmental pollution and expose humans to harmful substances and bacteria that affect human health. Everything we consume ultimately becomes waste in some form. Although we think of waste as just ‘something we throw away’, most of it is simply moved out of sight – into a landfill or poured down the drain.

Waste management is more than disposal of waste, and includes using natural resources more efficiently. One useful way that waste is discussed is through a hierarchy – the ‘5Rs’ of reduce, reuse, recycle, recover, and manage residual waste. Under this hierarchy, reduction in the amount of waste generated is put ahead of all other forms of waste management (Ministry for the Environment, 2007a).

Main results

Real household consumption expenditure has increased consistently over the 20 years to 2008. The number of people with access to recycling facilities and the proportion of packaging materials recycled has, at the same time, also increased. However, it is difficult to assess the impact of both increased consumption and recycling on overall changes in waste composition and levels, as there is no reliable information available on changes over time in the generation and disposal of waste.

Table 8.1
Waste indicators – key results

 Waste indicators - key results.

What the indicators tell us

Solid waste disposed to landfill (indicator 8.1)

In New Zealand, land filling is the most common method of solid waste disposal. At a national level, it is estimated that 3.2 million tonnes of waste was sent to municipal landfills in 2006 (Ministry for the Environment, 2007a).

Solid waste disposed to landfill includes common household waste, construction and demolition waste, industrial waste, and hazardous waste. Analysis of the composition of waste for 16 waste facilities in 2004 estimated that nearly a quarter of the waste disposed to landfill was organic material. The next largest categories were paper (15 percent), timber (14 percent), and rubble and concrete (12 percent) (see figure 8a).

Ideally, we would report on changes in the generation and disposal of waste (see ‘About the indicators’ below). Surveys of landfill operators provide some time series data on waste disposal but estimates have varied significantly because of the quality of the data (Ministry for the Environment, 2007a). Also, it is difficult to interpret the extent to which waste disposed of to municipal landfills is affected by increases in waste disposed of to cleanfills or other disposal sites. In the future, more data should become available as a result of the reporting requirements of the Waste Minimisation Act, 2008.

 Composition of waste disposed of to landfills, 2004 December year.

Proportion of population with access to kerbside recycling (indicator 8.2)

The amount of waste recycled reduces the demand for raw materials, leading to a reduction in resource extraction. Waste that is recycled is also diverted from landfills.

The level of access to kerbside recycling increased from 20 percent of the population in 1996 to 73 percent in 2006 (see figure 8b). In 2006, 97 percent of New Zealanders had access to either kerbside or drop-off recycling services.

 Proportion of population with access to kerbside recycling, 1996 and 2006 reference years.

Proportion of packaging waste recycled (indicator 8.3)

Recycling of packaging waste increased from 37kg to 97kg per person between 1994 and 2007 (see figure 8c). Recycling rates of all five types of packaging waste measured (aluminium, paper, glass, steel, and plastic) have increased since 1994. In 2007, aluminium had the highest rate of recycling (88 percent), while plastics had the lowest rate (23 percent).

Consumption of packaging has also increased over the same period. Total consumption of packaging increased by 51 percent and consumption per person increased from 126kg to 162kg. Consumption of packaging per person peaked in 2005 at 164kg.

Recycling of packaging waste increased faster than consumption. The percentage of packaging waste recycled increased from 29 percent in 1994 to 60 percent in 2007.

 Packaging waste consumed and recycled per person, 1994–2007 December years.

Real household consumption expenditure (indicator 8.4)

Household consumption is a major driving force behind the generation of waste in the economy. Real household consumption expenditure measures the volume of goods and services purchased by New Zealand households. Without improvements in efficiency, increased household consumption will impact on the environment through increased waste generation and energy consumption (see also indicator 6.4). Households can drive the development of more ‘environment-friendly’ goods by demanding, for example, more energy-efficient appliances and less packaging.

Real household consumption expenditure has steadily increased over the past 20 years, increasing by 77.9 percent from 1988 to 2008 (see figure 8d). Although rising consumption is partly related to population growth, consumption per person has also increased over the period, consistent with the rise in living conditions (see indicator 12.2).

Consumption of different types of goods and services has varying impact on the environment. Categories which have been identified in Europe as having the highest environmental impact, and that we believe to be applicable to New Zealand, include food consumption, transport, and housing (Europe Environment Agency, 2007). Figure 8d also shows that expenditure on all categories has increased, but most of the consumption growth is in the ‘all other goods and services’ category that includes spending on clothing, household goods, takeaways, and restaurants.

 Real household consumption expenditure by total and selected categories.

About the indicators

Waste data overview

Sustainable development indicators recommended by the United Nations (United Nations, 2007) relating to waste are:

  • generation of waste by sector and industry
  • generation of hazardous waste
  • waste disposal and percentage of waste recycled.

National data on measuring waste generation and disposal is limited. The indicators in this topic therefore provide a limited view of the total picture of waste and consumption in New Zealand.

Solid waste disposed to landfill (indicator 8.1)

National figures for disposal of solid waste do not include cleanfill materials (which are generally disposed of to separate cleanfill sites), materials disposed of in construction and demolition waste landfills, or materials disposed of to dedicated landfills associated with industrial sites or other major operations. Landfills can accept municipal solid waste, industrial waste, and hazardous waste. In contrast, cleanfills can only accept materials that, when buried, will have no harmful effects on people or the environment.

The data for the 2006 waste tonnage and the 2004 waste composition are sourced from the Ministry for the Environment (2007a). The waste tonnage data was collected by a landfill census, which collected data using a survey completed by site operators and some regional authorities. The percentages associated with the waste composition data are indicative only, because the margin of error associated with analysing the composition of waste disposed of to landfill is typically 20 percent.

Proportion of population with access to kerbside recycling (indicator 8.2)

The percentage of the population with access to kerbside recycling is used as a proxy indicator of the proportion of household waste recycled in New Zealand. This is because data that measures the actual proportion of recycled household waste is unavailable.

The 1996 data is from the Ministry for the Environment (2007a). The 2006 data is from a one-off survey of territorial authorities in November 2006, reported by the Ministry for the Environment (2007c).

Proportion of packaging waste recycled (indicator 8.3)

Packaging waste is a major component of the total solid waste stream. Recycling trends for packaging waste show that waste is being diverted from landfill, and reflect changes in the recycling behaviour of industry and consumers. Moreover, the relative amount and total quantity of the different types of waste recycled can vary as the cost and distribution of recycling services change.

The indicator includes waste from commercial packaging and packaging used to transport goods, as well as packaging waste from consumption. It measures the amount of waste recovered in order to be recycled.

The data for this indicator is compiled and reported annually, on a calendar-year basis, by the Packaging Council of New Zealand. Measures per person use resident mean population for the nearest March year.

Real household consumption expenditure (indicator 8.4)

The indicator is a volume series, expressed in 1995/96 dollars, therefore removing the effect of price changes. Data is from the New Zealand System of National Accounts.

Table 8.2
Waste indicators – defining principles

 Waste indicators - defining principles.

See part C for the complete list of defining principles for all indicators.

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