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Our Environment: Issue 21 Summer 1999

Our Environment: Christchurch City Council's Environmental Newsletter

The Natural Step To Managing Our Rubbish

Achieving zero solid waste to landfill by 2020 should be a natural step for Christchurch.

The City Council has agreed to adopt the holistic Natural Step framework to guide an assessment of the sustainability of activities in the City, starting with management of solid waste. Once the framework is piloted in the Waste Management Unit it will, if successful, be extended to the rest of the Council's operations.

Adoption of the Natural Step as an overall framework to build on existing initiatives already underway could improve the long-term sustainability of Christchurch as a city, according to Solid Waste Engineer Eric Park.

The Council is preparing a joint application, together with the Open Polytech of New Zealand, Landcare Research Ltd and others to the Sustainable Management Fund to obtain funding for a pilot introduction of the Natural Step Framework in New Zealand.

Developed by Swedish medical doctor and cancer researcher Karl-Henrik Robert, the Natural Step is based on four conditions for sustainability: reduce mining and use of fossil fuels; eliminate hazardous substances produced by society; protect biodiversity and ecosystems; and efficient use of resources to save money, reduce waste and meet human needs.

These conditions can be used as a compass by individuals, families, companies, cities and nations working towards a common goal. The Natural Step has described society's predicament - decreasing natural resources yet increasing demand for those resources - as a funnel, shown in the diagram.

Improving sustainability involves four steps:

  • share the Natural Step framework to get everyone working together with the same goal;

  • analyse current activities in relation to the four system conditions. Map critical flows of raw materials and energy;

  • develop a common long-term goal;

  • take small steps from where you are to achieving that goal.

The holistic framework can be used to align initiatives to achieve long-term financial, environmental and social sustainability of Christchurch as a City, says Eric Park.

Successful local programmes already in place to reduce solid

waste include weekly green crate recycling collections from the kerbside, provision of reuse recovery areas at the City Council's three refuse stations where residents can drop off recyclable and reusable items free of charge, the Council's compost plant and a commercial waste reduction programme.

The Recovered Materials Foundation diverted 12,650 tonnes of domestic waste for either reuse or recycling from May 1998 to the end of June 1999 including:

  • 7 million glass bottles and jars

  • 5 million aluminium cans

  • 3 million tin cans

  • 7.5 million plastic soft drink bottles

  • 4.5 million plastic milk bottles.

Residents and contractors can drop garden waste at green waste recovery areas for composting. Compost generated from the 30,000 tonnes of green waste each year is sold to both retail and wholesale customers. The Council also promotes hot heap home composting and worm composting.

Target Zero and Green retail waste minimisation programmes have been implemented to help businesses reduce waste. These initiatives encourage businesses to focus on reducing waste at source by making efficient use of raw materials, energy and water. The results are not only good for the environment but impact positively on the businesses' bottom line.

With these successful initiatives in place, Christchurch is already well on the way to implementing core objectives of the Natural Step Framework, says Eric Park.

Jennie Hamilton

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