1 July 2020. As the controversial Dome Valley landfill resource consent application progresses, Councillor Greg Sayers says we should be investigating waste-to-energy as an alternative. This could solve the environmental problems posed by landfill and meet our water needs at the same time.
The Waiwhiu Stream network, running through the Dome Valley, is consistently being fed by underground springs as well as from rainfall from across the Dome. These reservoirs could be harnessed in the future via bores or a dam, but such options would evaporate due to the potential risks consenting officers would have to consider if there was a nearby landfill.
That would be a pity because right now Auckland must look at new water supply options, such as recycling waste water, desalination plants, more private water tanks and accessing existing water reservoirs. The ultimate solution may be a combination of these options. We must become far more resilient as drought conditions will become more frequent and population growth remains relentless.
For example, desalination plants, which convert sea water into fresh water, require a lot of electricity. Waste-to-energy plants (WtE) recycle what would normally go into landfills, such as household and commercial waste, into electricity. Auckland produces enough waste for one of these WtEs to power a desalination plant, plus an additional 30,000 homes.
Instead of burying our waste maybe our landfill headaches and our water supply hardships are mutually solvable through building a desalination plant powered by a waste-to-energy recycling plant.
To explore this, last December I initiated a meeting between Auckland Council’s general manager for waste solutions, a representative from the Maori Statutory Board, other relevant Council staff, a WtE company and myself as the Councillor for Rodney.
We heard that Council’s recycling programs could continue and blossom. Also, we heard that WtE recycling plants operated in many parts of the world and any gases from the new generation plants are minimal, easily meeting the New Zealand air quality emission standards.
I have written to the Conservation Minister, Eugenie Sage, asking the Government to outline the pros and cons of WtE plants. For example, WtE plants produce a fly ash. This fly ash still has to go to landfill. In other words, the need for a landfill is not eliminated entirely, though volumes going to it would be reduced by 95 per cent. Meanwhile, building a WtE plant would require a partnership between Auckland Council, the waste collection companies, a preferred WtE company and central Government.
This month, Auckland Council voted unanimously to have a long-term water strategy paper for Auckland fast-tracked, including examining the idea above. I like the idea of zero waste where all products and packaging is completely recyclable, removing the need for landfills. The problem is the proposed Dome Valley landfill intends to open within eight years and 80 per cent of the waste going into landfills is currently unrecyclable commercial waste, so realistic alternatives are required now.
The overarching challenge is finding new freshwater supply solutions but, just maybe, society’s waste can play an integrated part in saving the Dome Valley.