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Revolutionising organic waste infrastructure

Are we spending wisely on our waste? A key investment criteria for councils has been diverting as much organic material from landfill as cheaply and efficiently as possible, which means councils tend to favour large single sites that can process a lot of organic material but are often expensive to build.

Following the Transforming Recycling consultation in 2022, the Government plans to make kerbside collection of food scraps available to all urban people by 2030. This will mean significant investment over the coming years. 

However, Manaaki Whenua researcher Dr Gradon Diprose says the challenge to making sensible investment is the lack of debate about what criteria should be used to help guide decisions. It doesn’t help that there is a lack of data in waste collection, transport, and processing infrastructure across the country.

With funding from the Building Better Homes, Towns and Cities National Science Challenge, Gradon and colleague Pam Booth collaborated with Zero Waste Network researchers Liam Prince and Hannah Blumhardt to understand the existing organic waste infrastructure in New Zealand.

The team ran a national survey of organics operators to first gather data, and then develop a taxonomy to help guide investment decisions. Reflecting on the research, Gradon says the survey, Scaling-up, scaling-out & branching-out: understanding & procuring diverse organic materials management models in Aotearoa New Zealand, was designed to get a better sense of what is currently happening with organic waste.

“While we know a bunch of community groups, hapū, marae, social enterprises and business are collecting and processing organic waste, there’s virtually no ‘official’ data about the volume processed, the methods and technologies they use, the challenges they face, and the impacts and outcomes of different models and approaches.”

The research follows the release of the NZ Government’s recently reworked national Waste Strategy that provides a framework to consider the kinds of organic waste infrastructure New Zealand needs to reduce emissions, improve resilience, and create other co-benefits for people and nature. To deliver action on climate change the Strategy has identified the need to reduce organic waste in landfills to lower greenhouse gas emissions.

“This investment in organics infrastructure over coming years will be significant,” says Gradon. “This is an important moment to highlight how we could get a wider range of benefits from our waste infrastructure that is more resilient to things like climate change and natural hazards, and re-connects people with the great outputs from organic waste to help improve soil.”

The report proposed a shared and consistent language to categorise different models; plus a taxonomy to help decision-makers consider other factors than just diversion from landfill such as including the geographic distance organic materials travel and associated transport emissions, and if the infrastructure is reliant on a single site, or multiple networked sites. It’s data that will help councils and other decision-makers spend wisely on waste.

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