How Christchurch City Council is leading in delivering sustainable events and urban policy
It’s important to think about rubbish.
Despite the Government’s 2020 decision to increase and expand the waste levy, Aotearoa, New Zealand, generates more than 17 million tonnes of waste annually. We send almost 13 million tonnes of that to landfill.. Waste is an age-old problem, and to date, we’ve done a pretty good job of creating systems to haul it away, but as the Ministry for the Environment declares in its 2023 Waste Strategy, “Most of the materials we use end up in landfill. Too much rubbish goes into recycling bins, too many recyclables go into rubbish bins, and there’s too much of both.” But how do Councils create sustainable urban policy? We reached out to Christchurch City Council (CCC) to understand how they’re tackling the waste crisis through investing in circular economies and effective material recovery strategies.
Christchurch City Council processed 72,858 tonnes of organics in 2019
To understand the potential for waste diversion from landfill, the Council commissioned EcoCentral to audit waste received via kerbside and transfer stations. This work would provide awareness and attention to the materials discarded and the potential for the diversion of select materials from landfill. In the rise of consumerism, population growth, and climate change, the Council found it very important to understand the global picture, the international markets for collected materials and constraints on existing infrastructure.
A waste assessment was conducted in 2019 and included in CCC’s Waste Management and Minimisation Plan 2020. The below table shows waste sent to landfill in 2018.
Ōtautahi-Christchurch implemented a three-bin kerbside system in 2009; organics (food and garden waste (compostable packaging is collected through events only), recyclables and general garbage. The Council owns the Organics Processing Plant in Bromley, and the site and facility are operated by Living Earth who, in 2019, transformed 72,858 tonnes of organic materials into certified organic compost that is sold to local agricultural and viticulture industries, building healthy soils that feed their community.
In a time of transition to a circular economy, the urgency for sustainable strategy saw the Council process 65 per cent of collected materials as recycling or composting. That was 2019, and waste landfilled per person was 115kg that year. The aim was to reduce this number to 80kg. Still, minimising waste production is a cultural issue as much as it is about individual action and various programmes and initiates continue working towards this ambitious target.
Material value and reduced global market demand for plastics
Christchurch City Council acknowledges in their Waste Management and Minimisation Plan that commodity prices for recyclable materials collected have declined, largely due to international policies banning hard-to-recycle plastics. Many of today’s complex economic, social, and environmental challenges have a common root cause-an economic model based on continual extraction and consumption. Our material use offers an urgent and overlooked example.
For one, we must raise the quality of materials collected, which will remain challenging without sufficient government regulation on food and beverage packaging materials. We extract value without thinking about the whole system. This means most of the materials we use, we lose, and often after just one short use. Yet the system is so complex and the challenge so enormous that multiple approaches will be required, everything from individual behaviour change to regulating entire industries—specifically packaging and our waste systems to build more resilient cities and reduce our environmental impact.
The role of compostables in the diversion of waste from city events
From May 2017 to 2019, the Council’s Events & Arts Team piloted trials on select events requiring food vendors to use only Council preapproved compostable food packaging. Specific certified compostable food packaging products at these events were hand sorted and sent to the Organics Processing Plant in Bromley. During the pilot period, 84 events have taken part, 149 tonnes of waste have been diverted, and events are averaging 76% of total waste diverted. The Council’s vision is that eventually, the initiative will be adopted by all city events, but also, Ōtautahi-Christchurch will be recognised as developing closed-loop events guidelines for other cities.
As infrastructure to correctly dispose of compostable packaging products remains unavailable to the general public (compostable packaging is not currently accepted in Christchurch City Council’s kerbside organics collection due to no national standard), the Council’s events trial provided the opportunity to demonstrate efficient material recovery strategies through mandating certified compostable products in closed-loop environments. Certified compostable packaging materials help increase the separate collection of bio-waste by recovering food scraps attached to (food) packaging that would otherwise be lost if the packaging is removed from the bio-waste stream. Made from agricultural products and therefore compatible with the bio-economy, these products are designed to biodegrade under aerobic conditions within a time frame of 6-12 weeks in industrial composting facilities and therefore present a unique opportunity to divert more organic matter from landfill.
How much more organic material could we be diverting from landfill if cities adopted rigid guidelines for business collections?
Garbage disposal and waste management are invariably tied to climate change. 9 per cent of Aotearoa, New Zealand's biogenic methane emissions and 4% of greenhouse gas emissions are from food and organic waste. And so, to meet our climate change objectives, the government has outlined strategies as part of the Transforming Recycling consultation for diverting food waste from landfill.
At the same time, "Multinational and local businesses have signed the NZ Plastic Packaging Declaration and/or the New Plastics Economy Global Commitment, pledging to use 100% reusable, recyclable or compostable packaging in NZ operations by 2025," yet our recently announced waste strategy—of which the single-use plastic bans are a part of failed to provide a considerable evaluation of the ethical responsibility of phasing out plastics for alternative materials of which limited processing exists.
Beyond reduced virgin fossil resources inputs, compostable materials represent a unique opportunity to divert more organic matter from landfill. Discounting compostable packaging as a part of the future of waste management limits our capacity to recover, transform and produce new materials and/or energy as part of a circular economy.
This new era requires a considerable evaluation of the ethical responsibility in doing business
According to the Ministry for the Environment, businesses generate 25 per cent of all food waste that goes to landfill—over 75,000 tonnes annually. Naturally, the Ministry asks, “Are there better uses for food scraps than landfilling”. Yes. But why wait until 2030 to separate food scraps from general waste? That is not soon enough.
Established guidelines exist for reducing waste during events, recovering food scraps and approved certified compostable food ware for composting. As business owners or those in procurement or event management positions, we must continue shifting product preferences in line with achieving ecological responsibility, emissions reduction strategies and customer satisfaction.
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If you are a business seeking to reduce your impact further, please get in touch to learn more about our products and closed-loop collection service, Compost Collect.
 Ministry for the Environment. 2023. Te rautaki para | Waste strategy. Wellington: Ministry for the Environment.