Part 4: Particular approaches to waste management

Waste management planning by territorial authorities.

In this Part, we consider examples of particular approaches some territorial authorities had taken to waste management. We set out three case studies of:

Case study 1 – Implementing a zero waste policy


About two-thirds of the waste management plans we assessed included a zero waste policy – that is, a long-term goal of not disposing of any waste in landfills.

This case study considers how a territorial authority with a zero waste policy – Ashburton District Council – was seeking to implement its policy.

Ashburton District Council adopted a zero waste policy in its Waste Management Plan for Solid and Hazardous Waste 1999 and subsequently adopted a target of zero waste to landfills by 2015. It reconfirmed the plan in 2005.

Waste diversion facilities

At the time of our audit, Ashburton District Council had the following facilities for waste diversion:

  • a large resource recovery park in Ashburton that provided extensive reuse, recycling, and recovery systems, and included an education centre and residual waste drop-off facilities. The reuse, recycling, recovery, and education activities at the recovery park were managed by Wastebusters Canterbury (a community trust); and
  • a smaller resource recovery park in Rakaia that provided reuse, recycling, and recovery systems and residual waste drop-off facilities for the local community. A volunteer group assisted with the recycling activities. This recovery park was set up in response to requests from a community group.

The recovery parks were independent of each other. Each park's reuse and recycling systems processed different types of material, and each park sourced its own markets for reused and recycled products.

Ashburton District Council has contract arrangements for collecting residual waste. The waste is transported to, and disposed of in, the Canterbury regional Kate Valley landfill in the Hurunui District.

Trials for further waste diversion

Ashburton District Council trialled a putrescible (organic waste – mainly food) diversion system in 2005/06. It evaluated the trial, concluded that it would support diverting putrescibles from the waste stream, and budgeted for further investigation to find a cost-effective way to collect and process putrescible material.

At the time of our audit, Ashburton District Council was trialling a drop-off facility for recyclable and reusable waste in Methven. It intended to evaluate this and carry out public consultation before deciding what waste management facilities would be provided in Methven on an ongoing basis.

Education programmes

Ashburton District Council had contracted Wastebusters Canterbury to deliver waste education programmes. The programmes included education at schools, and educating residents about waste issues and council services. Wastebusters Canterbury ran practical workshops and demonstrations (for example, worm farming and mosaic making) at the education centre.

Figure 13
Education centre at the Ashburton Resource Recovery Park

Figure 13.

Contracting with a community trust

Ashburton District Council entered contracts with Wastebusters Canterbury, which had specialised waste management skills. The council took a staged approach to entering the contracts. This enabled the council and Wastebusters Canterbury, as partners, to:

  • determine quantities of recyclables;
  • identify potential revenue streams;
  • determine required capital development for the recovery park;
  • integrate education activities with other Ashburton District Council waste management activities; and
  • understand their contractual obligations.

How does a zero waste policy fit with part-ownership of Kate Valley landfill?

Although Ashburton District Council had a zero waste policy, it was currently managing around 7000 tonnes of residual waste each year and expected to continue to dispose of waste in the landfill for some time.

Ashburton District Council is a shareholder (3%) in Transwaste Canterbury Limited (Transwaste), a joint venture company with other Canterbury councils and other companies. Transwaste owns and operates the Kate Valley landfill in the Hurunui District.

At face value, being a shareholder of a landfill appears inconsistent with Ashburton District Council's zero waste policy. However, landfill agreement documents acknowledged the importance of waste minimisation activities, and required Ashburton District Council to implement waste minimisation programmes so far as it was practicable and financially viable.

These are practical arrangements because they provide Ashburton District Council with a facility for disposing of waste in the short to medium term while supporting activities that reduced the quantity of waste they disposed of in a landfill.

Measuring progress towards zero waste

Ashburton District Council measured and reported on progress towards zero waste through internal reports and through its annual report.

Figure 14 shows the quantity of waste Ashburton District Council was managing. This shows:

  • an increasing percentage of waste was being diverted from landfill through programmes at resource recovery centres; and
  • the overall mass of waste generated within the district (before any was diverted through recovery park activities such as recycling) had nearly doubled since 2001/02.

We note that it is difficult to determine how much waste has been reduced or diverted by households in response to waste education programmes (for example, through home composting or reusing items).

Figure 14
Measured trends in waste managed by Ashburton District Council

Figure 14.

What progress has the Ashburton District Council made towards its target of zero waste?

Ashburton District Council has a target of zero waste to landfills by 2015. Council staff told us it will be difficult to meet this target within reasonable cost, but that it is a goal to aspire to.

In 2005/06, Ashburton District Council diverted 39% of the district's total waste from the landfill. It has a further target in the Ashburton District Community Plan 2006-2016 to increase this figure to 49% by 2010/11.

In our view, a target should express what a council expects to achieve. Councils need to take care in setting targets for zero waste, particularly where they are intended to be aspirational. However, the practice of setting intermediary targets (for example, Ashburton District Council's target to increase waste diversion to 49% by 2010/11) would help a council to assess its progress in diverting waste over the short or medium term.

Ashburton District Council had taken an active role in reducing waste going to a landfill, and was continuing to reduce the percentage of waste disposed of in a landfill. It followed a number of practices that we consider contributed to this achievement. We set these out in paragraphs 4.23-4.27. Most of the people we spoke to strongly supported the zero waste policy.

We were advised that the council had carried out detailed solid waste planning at the same time as it prepared the 1999 waste management plan. It wanted to ensure that the plan would work, so there would be no need to repeat community consultation to change the plan. We consider detailed planning to be an important part of preparing a waste management plan. It is important for territorial authorities to understand the costs and practicalities associated with policy decisions when they prepare waste management plans. It is important for effective and efficient implementation for the initial waste management planning to be sound and well thought through.

In setting up waste management systems, Ashburton District Council recognised that it needed particular expertise, and provided for this by contracting specialised services from Wastebusters Canterbury. It is important for territorial authorities to assess the particular capabilities required for waste management activities, and to consider how they will provide for these. Examples of the different skills a territorial authority might require vary from contract management and data analysis to the ability to source markets for recyclable material.

Ashburton District Council had taken time to trial and evaluate waste management practices before setting them up. This was a sound approach, as it enabled the council to identify how it could be more effective in conducting particular activities.

We were pleased to see Ashburton District Council's ownership arrangements for Kate Valley landfill were not contrary to its zero waste policy. We expect territorial authorities with zero waste or similar policies to ensure that the contractual arrangements they enter into do not compromise their ability to implement these policies.

We note that the Ashburton District Council had taken account of requests from the community in providing particular waste services and activities, which is in keeping with the Local Government Act 2002.

However, despite the Ashburton District Council's substantial efforts to divert waste, total waste (that is, all waste before any is diverted through recovery park activities such as recycling) from the district had increased. The council told us that this increase was a result of significant development in the district. It was continuing with its current waste management programmes and trialling new ones to increase the quantities of waste diverted.

Case study 2 – Territorial authorities with joint waste management arrangements

A number of territorial authorities had joint arrangements for various waste management activities. Twelve territorial authorities had prepared joint waste management plans, and a number had joint landfill arrangements or jointly funded activities to encourage waste reduction and diversion.

This case study considers two territorial authorities, Hastings District Council and Napier City Council, which had several joint waste management arrangements, including a joint waste management plan.

The joint waste management arrangements entered into by these two councils were (in chronological order):

  • jointly owning the Omarunui landfill (1980s);
  • implementing a joint waste management plan, including joint waste minimisation activities (2000); and
  • preparing a new joint waste management plan (2006).

Joint ownership of the Omarunui landfill

The councils had a formal agreement for the joint landfill arrangement. This set out how the landfill would be governed, and set up a joint landfill committee comprising four Hastings District councillors and two Napier City councillors. The agreement also described how administration and operational decisions and reporting should occur.

For historic reasons, Hastings District Council owned 63.68% of the landfill and Napier City Council owned 36.32%. Council representation on the joint committee governing the landfill reflected ownership proportions.

The landfill was opened in 1988, and, at the time of our audit, the current landfill area – "Valley A" – was nearly full. Capital works were nearly completed for a landfill extension, "Valley D", depicted in Figure 15.

Figure 15
New landfill development in "Valley D"

Figure 15.

Joint waste management plan and waste minimisation arrangements

In 2000, Hastings District and Napier City Council prepared the joint Solid Waste Management Plan. Their plan identified some common practices for both councils. It provided for each one to set up its own systems for collecting and managing waste in its respective district, and for the two councils to share equally the cost of a waste minimisation officer.

The councils prepared an action plan in 2001 for implementing the joint waste management plan. The action plan identified actions and individual and joint accountabilities for each council in implementing the plan, including accountabilities for a waste minimisation position.

We did not find any formal agreement between the councils regarding the arrangements for the joint waste minimisation position, apart from information in the joint waste management plan. Two waste minimisation officers were appointed. They were based at the Hastings District Council and reported to the Omarunui joint landfill committee.

In 2006/07, Napier City Council reviewed whether it wished to continue with the joint arrangements for the waste minimisation officer positions and decided to withdraw as from March 2007.

New joint waste management plan

In 2006, Hastings District and Napier City Councils set up a working group, with councillor and staff representatives from both councils, to prepare a new joint waste management plan. The councils agreed on terms of reference for preparing the plan. Napier City Council adopted the plan in December 2006, at the same time that it decided to leave the joint waste minimisation officer arrangements. Hastings District Council delayed adopting the plan to check that it would still meet the district's requirements, given that there would not be a joint waste minimisation officer arrangement.

Reasons for preparing a joint waste management plan included joint ownership of the landfill, the close proximity of the councils, and the willingness of both to have a joint plan. Both councils identified benefits in preparing a joint waste management plan.

Many people we spoke with commented that preparing the new joint waste management plan worked well.

We were told that one limitation in preparing the joint plan was that the two councils had different waste management systems and did not always share the same policies – for example, Hastings District Council had a zero waste policy, but Napier City Council did not. The plan has addressed this by identifying the particular activities and policies or philosophies of each council. We were told that the differences between the two councils meant that common actions and outcomes needed to be stated broadly, to allow them to choose the extent to which they each pursued the activities and outcomes.

Are the arrangements working?

Landfill arrangement

The joint landfill arrangement had been in place for quite a few years. Both councils used the landfill, with each disposing of about 30,000 tonnes of waste a year. The landfill had been expanded through extensive capital works, so both councils had a facility they could continue to use for the next 9 to 10 years.

The joint arrangement had a formal agreement that provided a decision-making framework and clearly identified roles and responsibilities. We consider that this was important, as it afforded both councils certainty about how the arrangement would work.

Hastings District Council was responsible for day-to-day operation of the landfill. We were pleased to see that the formal agreement provided for both councils to have oversight of, and the ability to participate in, decision-making on landfill activities.

The arrangement was complicated by the different proportions of landfill ownership by the two councils. The ownership arrangements arose from historical circumstances, and it was unlikely that these would change.

We were advised that the landfill accepted waste from Hastings District and Napier City on a user-pays basis. The remaining life of the landfill will be determined by the quantity of waste to be disposed of. The councils had not set limits on how much waste could be disposed of in the landfill each year, but they had jointly sought to reduce the quantity of waste disposed of.

It is important for territorial authorities with joint landfill arrangements to consider how their waste management activities, and the activities of others using the landfill, will affect the remaining life of the landfill. If one territorial authority disposes of significantly more waste in the landfill than the other, it may disadvantage the other.

Waste management plan and waste minimisation officer arrangements

Both councils had made progress in implementing the 2001 joint waste management plan through the work of the jointly funded waste minimisation officers and in setting up their own waste management services.

Both councils agreed that it was practical to have a joint waste management plan, and prepared a second waste management plan together in 2006. However, as noted in paragraph 4.39, in late 2006, Napier City Council decided to withdraw from the joint waste minimisation officer arrangements.

We consider that the formal arrangements for joint waste minimisation officer activities were unclear.

In our 2004 report Local Authorities Working Together,1 we identified practices for managing joint arrangements. We summarise these in Figure 16.

Figure 16
Considerations in managing joint arrangements

  • When entering into a joint arrangement, local authorities should agree how they intend to work together.
  • Local authorities should consider how the joint arrangement will be governed.
  • Local authorities should agree at the outset how they will share any external costs.
  • Where a joint arrangement has implications for staff, local authorities should consider how those implications are best managed.
  • Throughout the life cycle of a joint arrangement and on completion, local authorities should review progress to ensure that key milestones, budgets, and timetables are being met.

New joint waste management plan

Hastings District and Napier City Councils prepared the 2006 waste management plan together. They set up a joint waste management plan working party, and agreed on terms of reference for preparing the plan. The plan was prepared by the working party, which comprised equal representation from both councils, and by the waste minimisation officers, positions that were funded equally by each council.

The arrangements made it clear who was responsible for preparing the waste management plan. The terms of reference did not identify how the work would be resourced. However, the nature of the arrangements provided for costs to be shared equally by the two councils.

Overlaps between arrangements

There was some overlap between the joint landfill arrangements and the joint waste minimisation arrangements, because activities from both arrangements were reported to the joint landfill committee. The committee was set up to govern landfill activities, and had formal powers in this respect. Its role in making decisions on waste minimisation activities was unclear.

We consider that territorial authorities entering more than one joint waste management arrangement need to consider the effect that each joint arrangement has on the other arrangements, and take action to manage these effects.

Case study 3 – Links between waste management plans and landfill gas-to-energy ventures

The breakdown of organic matter in landfills produces methane gas, a greenhouse gas. Regulations prohibit some landfills from discharging landfill gas to air, but provide for them to collect landfill gas and flare it or use it as an energy source.2

Sixteen percent of all territorial authority waste management plans said the authority had installed, or would consider installing, systems at their landfills to use landfill gas as an energy source.

Deciding to use landfill gas as an energy source instead of flaring it could have implications for future management of organic waste.

Territorial authorities considering ventures that use landfill gas as an energy source need to consider a variety of factors to determine whether the arrangement is practical and economically feasible. In our view, authorities should also take account of the direction provided in the Local Government Act 1974 and their own waste management plan when they consider proposals to use landfill gas as an energy source.

This case study considers the fit between two territorial authority waste management plans and the authorities' ventures using landfill gas as an energy source.

Local Government Act 1974 and waste management plan considerations

Organic waste accounts for approximately a third of all landfill waste.3 The Waste Strategy encourages territorial authorities to divert organic waste from landfills.

The Local Government Act 1974 does not provide any direction specific to organic waste, but it encourages territorial authorities to give preference to methods for waste recovery over methods for disposing of waste in landfills.

Landfill gas production is dependent on organic material entering the landfill. Sufficient quantities of organic matter need to be present to ensure that there is enough methane for commercially viable energy production. However, territorial authority waste management plans often contain targets to reduce the amount of waste disposed of in landfills and/or include a policy of zero waste going to landfills.

Territorial authorities contemplating proposals for using landfill gas as a source of energy therefore need to consider:

  • the implications these proposals have for future organic waste management practices; and
  • how the proposal fits with the authority's waste management plan and with the direction given by the Local Government Act 1974 and the Waste Strategy.

Hutt City Council

Hutt City Council is a minor shareholder (7%) in a joint venture to extract gas from the Silverstream landfill and generate electricity from it. Gas extraction and electricity generation have been occurring at the site for many years.

The council entered the landfill gas venture some time before the Waste Strategy or the council's waste management plan were prepared.

The council had done a detailed review of some aspects of the economic costs and benefits of diverting waste from the landfill after it had entered the landfill gas venture. This work estimated how diverting organic waste would affect landfill capacity, and the cost savings that would result from deferring capital works on a landfill extension if organic waste were to be diverted.

Hutt City Council's waste management plan (prepared jointly with Upper Hutt City Council) noted the current landfill gas venture and outlined the environmental benefits of this.

The waste management plan also included organic waste diversion targets from the Waste Strategy and provided for the council to divert organic waste from landfill if the council found it economically, socially, and environmentally feasible to do so.

The council was aware of privately owned composting facilities in the district. The council provided education about diverting organic waste through recovery. It did not have facilities for green waste diversion.

Our comments

The landfill gas venture is historic, pre-dating the waste management plan, and comprises established infrastructure and management practices. The waste management plan provides for this.

Hutt City Council had done some work considering green waste diversion options, and had identified reasons for continuing current arrangements. However, this work was contained in different documents, and some of it was not documented. It would be useful for the council to collate this information so the evaluation of costs and benefits and the reasons for continuing with current arrangements is clear. We note that some of the cost/benefit information the council held was dated and that the council may wish to review it. Once collated, this information may be useful to help assess further organic waste diversion activities.

The waste management plan showed the council intended to continue with the landfill gas venture and would investigate organic waste diversion opportunities, but would adopt them only if they were economically feasible.

The plan included targets to divert organic waste from the landfill. We are not convinced of the usefulness of including these targets in the plan, particularly because the council did not have a clear method to achieve them.

Nelson City Council

Nelson City Council was party to a commercial agreement to extract gas from the York Valley landfill and use the gas as an energy source to help fuel steam boilers at Nelson Hospital. The complete system became operational in 2006.

Nelson City Council's 2001 waste management plan (including a zero waste policy) was in force when the council entered the agreement. Before entering the agreement, councillors debated whether such an agreement would conflict with the council's zero waste targets. They decided to pursue the venture on the basis that the agreement would not prevent them from diverting organic waste from disposal in a landfill in the future.

Nelson City Council prepared a new waste management plan in 2005. Both the 2001 and 2005 waste management plans discussed the merits of diverting organic waste from the landfill against having organic material within the landfill to create enough methane gas to use as an energy source.

The 2005 plan allowed for diversion of organic waste provided that it was no more expensive to do so than disposing of the waste in the landfill. The plan discussed the effect of organic waste diversion on landfill capacity, and committed the council to investigating diversion of further organic waste from the landfill.

The council had a green waste drop-off facility, and a contract arrangement for collected waste to be composted.

Council staff had prepared a comprehensive report on the options to manage organic wastes. The council planned further education and monitoring activities as a consequence of this.

Our comments

Nelson City Council was well positioned to continue both with the venture using landfill gas as an energy source and with organic waste diversion practices, as it had provided for both within its waste management plan.

We are pleased that Nelson City Council took account of waste management plan policies when considering and entering the arrangements to use the landfill gas as an energy source. This is in keeping with the purpose of having a waste management plan. We expect every territorial authority to take account of waste management plan policies when taking further decisions about organic waste management.

Nelson City Council's waste management plan included a summary of the effects of the council's organic waste management practices, including the landfill arrangements and diversion activities. The information contained in the summary was easy to understand and provides a useful reference for those considering Nelson City's organic waste issues.

Our conclusions for case study 3

Territorial authorities may find the cost of organic waste diversion is more expensive, at least in the short term, than disposing of it in landfills. The opportunity for potential economic benefits from using landfill gas as a source of energy may also influence any decision to dispose of organic waste in a landfill.

However, we expect all territorial authorities to consider the costs, benefits, operational requirements, and implications of any method before they adopt it. If they do not, they run the risk that the method they have chosen will not be compatible with other waste policies and activities the authority has committed to, or that the activity will not be feasible. This is particularly relevant to using landfill gas as an energy source, which can be contrary to a territorial authority's waste diversion targets, methods, and policies – particularly methods for organic waste diversion.

We acknowledge that it is complicated for territorial authorities to weigh up the costs and benefits of landfill gas arrangements and waste diversion activities.

Regulations prohibit some landfills from discharging landfill gas to air, but provide for them to collect and flare landfill gas or use it as an energy source. For territorial authorities that are considering proposals to use landfill gas as an energy source, we have listed some questions in Figure 17 that will help them identify how such a venture would fit with their waste management plan.

Figure 17
Questions for territorial authorities considering ventures that use landfill gas as an energy source

  • How will the venture affect organic waste activities and targets in the waste management plan?
  • Is the venture compatible with any targets or policies in the plan for reducing the quantity of waste disposed of in a landfill?
  • How will the venture affect landfill capacity, and what are the economic and other effects of this?
  • What benefits will the venture bring to the territorial authority?
  • Will the venture prevent the territorial authority from diverting waste away from the landfill in the future?

1: ISBN 0-478-18118-3.

2: Resource Management (National Environmental Standards Relating to Certain Air Pollutants, Dioxins, and Other Toxins) Regulations 2004.

3: The New Zealand Waste Strategy, 2002, Ministry for the Environment, New Zealand, page 22.

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