Waste management planning by territorial authorities

Performance audits from 2007: Follow-up report.

At the time of our performance audit, the Local Government Act 1974 required all territorial authorities to adopt a Waste Management Plan to provide for waste management in their district. The Act directed territorial authorities, when preparing their plans, to consider the following waste management methods, in order of priority: reduction, reuse, recycling, recovery, treatment, and disposal.

The scope of our audit

We carried out a performance audit of how territorial authorities managed their solid waste. Our audit report contained:

  • an assessment of whether all territorial authorities had adopted a Waste Management Plan, and how that plan provided for managing solid waste in the district; and
  • the details of how six selected territorial authorities were implementing their Waste Management Plans.

We also focused on three case studies, highlighting specific approaches to managing solid waste:

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

Our findings

Although all territorial authorities had prepared Waste Management Plans, some plans did not contain all the information we expected. We were concerned that these plans would not help guide council decisions about waste management.

More generally, in many cases it was unclear whether the plans had been formally adopted. Some plans were out of date.

The six plans we reviewed in more detail were in various stages of implementation. Progress was being made – several territorial authorities had improved their plans and practices through self-review and by updating their plans.

We noted that the waste management methods used by these territorial authorities favoured waste diversion and waste disposal activities rather than waste reduction. We were not convinced that all six territorial authorities understood the demand that steady or increasing quantities of waste will place on their future waste management activities.

We were pleased to see that most of the six territorial authorities had good waste management practices. Most had updated and refined their waste management plans, 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.

The areas for improvement related to contract management, 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.

Our audit report did not make any recommendations, but did list considerations for territorial authorities to take into account when preparing or reviewing Waste Management Plans, carrying out recycling activities, reviewing the implementation of Waste Management Plans, entering joint management arrangements, and using landfill gas as an energy source.

The response to our findings

After the report’s release, our staff attended the Waste Management Institute New Zealand conference in May 2007 and presented the report findings at a Solid Waste Management Planning workshop. We received pleasing feedback from workshop participants.

We also briefed the Local Government and Environment Committee on our findings. The Committee considered that our report gave them practical insight into local government waste management practices. It was also well timed because the Committee was considering the Waste Minimisation Bill.

That Bill has since been finalised, and the Waste Minimisation Act 2008 came into force in September 2008. The new Act encourages waste minimisation and a decrease in waste disposal to protect the environment from harm and provide environmental, social, economic, and cultural benefits. This Act requires territorial authorities to adopt a Waste Management and Minimisation Plan.

We encourage territorial authorities, when updating their plans to meet the new Waste Minimisation Act’s requirements, to take account of the findings in our report.

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