Waste managment planning by territorial authorities.

Territorial authorities (city and district councils) have an important role in managing waste. The Local Government Act 1974 requires all territorial authorities to formally adopt a waste management plan to provide for waste collection and management in the district.

The Act directs territorial authorities, when preparing their plans, to consider the waste management methods of reduction, reuse, recycling, recovery, treatment, and disposal, in that order of priority. The methods with higher priority use fewer resources.

We wanted to provide assurance to Parliament about the usefulness of territorial authorities’ waste management planning for solid waste.

When preparing their waste management plans, territorial authorities need to take account of the costs, benefits, and operational requirements of pursuing particular methods of managing waste. Territorial authorities need to ensure that methods are feasible and that they understand the implications of adopting particular activities.

We conducted our audit in three parts. We considered:

  • whether all territorial authorities had adopted a waste management plan, and how the plan provided for the management of solid waste in the district;
  • how six selected territorial authorities were implementing their waste management plans; and
  • three case studies of particular approaches to the management of solid waste.

Our findings

While all territorial authorities had prepared waste management plans, some of the plans were out of date or did not contain all the information we expected. We are concerned the plans would not be useful in guiding council decisions about waste management.

The six territorial authorities we reviewed in more detail were progressively implementing their plans. Several of them had improved their plans and practices through self-review and by updating their plans.

The waste management methods these councils had implemented favoured waste diversion and waste disposal activities rather than waste reduction.

Waste management plans for all territorial authorities

We expected every territorial authority to have a waste management plan. We asked every authority to provide us with a copy of its waste management plan, and we assessed the plans to see whether they met the requirements of the Local Government Acts 1974 and 2002.

Every territorial authority had prepared a waste management plan. However, the status of many plans was unclear, and authorities needed to clarify whether they were intending to do further work on their plan or whether it had been formally adopted.

Many waste management plans included clear information about the particular waste collection and management methods they intended to pursue. However, some plans did not include detailed enough methods, and some were out of date.

In our view, territorial authorities need to ensure that their waste management plans clearly identify the methods for collecting and managing waste, and they need to review their plans regularly to ensure that the plans are still relevant and useful.

Most plans included some information about the quantity and composition of waste in the district, although fewer identified how much waste was expected in the future. While baseline information about the quantity and composition of waste is an important starting point for preparing a waste management plan, territorial authorities also need to consider how much waste they can expect in the future so they can better plan services to meet the demand.

The Ministry for the Environment published The New Zealand Waste Strategy (the Waste Strategy) in 2002. The Waste Strategy provides national guidance for waste management, and includes targets for territorial authorities. About two-thirds (65%) of plans made reference to the Waste Strategy, and some plans were closely aligned with it.

How six selected territorial authorities had implemented their waste management plans

We selected six territorial authorities so we had an example of an urban, provincial, and rural territorial authority in each of the North and South Islands. We reviewed each authority’s progress in implementing its waste management plan. The authorities we selected were:

  • North Shore City Council;
  • Rotorua District Council;
  • South Taranaki District Council;
  • Nelson City Council;
  • Mackenzie District Council; and
  • Queenstown-Lakes District Council.

All six territorial authorities were implementing their waste management plans. However, most of their activities involved managing waste that had been generated, rather than reducing the quantity of waste generated.

If there is no reduction in the amount of waste generated, territorial authorities can expect to manage steady or increasing quantities of waste. We are not convinced that all of the six territorial authorities understood the demand this will place on some aspects of their waste management activities in the future.

Current waste management practices and policies have a strong influence on the quantity of waste that territorial authorities can expect to manage in the future, and the ultimate destination of this waste. We encourage each territorial authority to consider carefully the sustainability of the approaches in its waste management plan, and the effects of these approaches on community well-being.

We were pleased to see most of the six territorial authorities demonstrating good waste management practices. Most had updated and refined their waste management plans and practices through self-review, and all collected detailed data on the waste they managed. Several had clear internal reporting systems that linked reporting on waste management activities to the relevant parts of their waste management plans.

There were a number of practices that individual authorities could improve. These related to updating waste management plans, managing contracts, data management, and the need to ensure that information in the waste management plan was consistent with information in the long-term council community plan.

Case studies of three solid waste management approaches

We undertook three case studies to identify any issues or problems that territorial authorities needed to address when they used particular waste management approaches. The case studies considered:

  • a territorial authority with a zero waste policy;
  • territorial authorities with joint waste management arrangements; and
  • territorial authorities using landfill gas as a source of energy.

Case study 1 – Implementing a zero waste policy

About 60% of the waste management plans included a zero waste policy – that is, a long-term goal of not disposing of any waste in landfills. Our case study considered how Ashburton District Council was seeking to implement its zero waste policy.

In 2005/06, Ashburton District Council diverted 39% of the district’s total waste from landfill disposal. The council had taken an active role in diverting waste, and was continuing to reduce the proportion of waste going to a landfill.

The council followed a number of practices that we consider contributed to this achievement. In particular, it:

  • carried out detailed solid waste planning at the same time as it prepared its solid waste management plan;
  • recognised the particular expertise it required to deliver solid waste services, and provided for that expertise; and
  • took time to trial and evaluate waste management practices before setting them up throughout the district.

However, we note that, despite substantial effort from the council to divert waste, the total waste from the district (that is, all waste before any was diverted through activities such as recycling) had increased significantly in the past few years. This had resulted in increased demand for waste management services, including diversion and disposal services.

Case study 2 – Territorial authorities with joint waste management arrangements

A number of territorial authorities had joint arrangements with other territorial authorities for various waste management activities. We considered three joint arrangements between the Hastings District and Napier City Councils for waste management activities. These included:

  • jointly owning the Omarunui landfill;
  • implementing a joint waste management plan in 2000, particularly joint waste minimisation activities; and
  • preparing a new joint waste management plan in 2006/07.

The joint arrangements for the Omarunui landfill and the new joint waste management plan had agreed frameworks that identified the arrangements and how they would work. This provided the two councils with certainty about how the arrangements would work. Both derived benefits from the arrangements, and had demonstrated a commitment to making them work.

Although both councils were implementing the 2000 joint waste management plan, the formal arrangements for joint waste minimisation activities were unclear. In our view, this arrangement did not provide the councils with certainty about how the arrangement would work.

Case study 3 – Territorial authorities converting landfill gas to energy

Regulations prohibit some landfills from discharging landfill gas to air, but provide for them to collect landfill gas and either flare it or use it as an energy source. Deciding to use landfill gas as an energy source can have implications for future management of organic waste.

Landfill gas is produced from the breakdown of organic material in the landfill. There needs to be enough organic matter for ventures using landfill gas as an energy source to be commercially viable.

However, disposing of organic waste in landfills to generate gas for energy is somewhat contrary to the direction provided in the Local Government Act 1974 and the Waste Strategy, which encourage territorial authorities to divert waste away from landfills. Further, many territorial authority waste management plans had zero waste policies or policies to divert waste from landfills.

Territorial authorities considering energy ventures using landfill gas need to weigh up the direction provided by the Local Government Act 1974 and their own waste management plans, and to have clear reasons for any decision they make.

We looked at two territorial authorities with arrangements to use landfill gas for energy – Nelson City and Hutt City Councils. Nelson City Council had taken account of its waste management plan in entering arrangements to use landfill gas for energy. It was well-positioned to benefit from these arrangements and to continue diverting green waste from landfill. Hutt City Council entered an arrangement to use landfill gas for energy in the early 1990s, well before it prepared its waste management plan. It had done some work reviewing the effects of diverting organic waste from landfills.

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