OPINION: We are living in a `culture of excess’

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Trash...Some of the collected rubbish that has been washed up on West Coast beaches following flooding exposing a landfill. PHOTO: ALLIED PRESS FILES

By Ines Stager

Are we making progress in reducing waste?

A result of our district’s efficient waste separation means that the life of the local landfill has been extended considerably.

However, we live in a culture of excess and remain part of the world’s throwaway society. The slogan “reduce, reuse, recycle” remains a catch phrase.

Yes, progress has been made in taking plastic shopping bags out of the equation, it is a step in the right direction. And it really is not such a big deal taking shopping bags along.

However plastic bags are just one, relatively small, component out of the waste stream. The mountain of other materials that end up in consumers’ hands is much larger.

Avoid and reduce should be the first principles we can all follow as individuals, and if implemented would make a vast difference.

The Timaru district’s waste stream separation and processing is a leading example in terms of efficient systems within New Zealand. To date, not many councils provide a three-bin system. Waimakariri District Council is about to roll out the bins to residents, starting separation on July 1, 2019.

Ines Stager

As we have just experienced, landfills are not necessarily safe places for waste to be contained. With the predicted sea level rise, more than 110 of New Zealand’s coastal landfills may be affected and their contents unearthed.

I can think of some inland landfills at the edge of rivers that are equally vulnerable and may be unearthed triggered by flooding, just as the landfill on the West Coast did recently.

Hats off to the people who are volunteering on the West Coast. Collecting washed up debris along the beaches is not a glamorous job.

The washed out waste has wider implications. What ends up in the sea is unknown and is likely to affect marine life. While these days, toxic waste is treated and stored separately, this has not necessarily been the case in days gone by.

What was thought to be a safe and sealed location for toxic waste in the mid-1970s in Switzerland, turned out to be a disaster 10 years later. Toxins penetrated the seal of the former clay pit. A depth of 5m of the underlying rock is now contaminated as well as the groundwater and nearby waterway.

Also, gases escaped to the atmosphere. This resulted firstly in enclosing the entire area and then removing the toxic waste. To safely remove the toxic waste, workers wore specialised suits and masks, again not a job to be envious of.

More than a billion dollars of tax and ratepayers’ money is being spent to remove this toxic waste, dispose of it in a “safe” way, and clean up the affected environment. Let’s hope lessons have been learnt from these mistakes. Our land and water resources are limited, we should be responsible with them.

Ines Stager is a landscape architect based in Geraldine, a board member of the Royal Forest & Bird Protection Society and a committee member of the local branch.