Rants, Raves, Reviews

We are what we cunsume, emit and dump

By Gary R, in , posted: 31-Jul-2007 13:08

Lord of the rings did a lot for our country with reviewers raving about our stunning scenery. Our tourism board took it to the world with the 'Pure New Zealand' campaign. On the face of it we are clean, green and beautiful or at least that is what we claim. The reality unfortunately is somewhat quite different and to prove the point I have put together what I consider are our top 5 dirty little eco-secrets where the only thing 'green' is the layer of apathetic scum growing over the shame of our collective consumption, emission and disposal habits.

1. Cows

Lets face it cows or cattle in the dairy sector are the single biggest emitters of 'greenhouse gas', with the agricultural sector overall contributing 48.5% of our total emissions in 2005. We all know that dairy is growing with large amounts of land being converted to grazing and farming land. Not only will this increase emissions but it puts a strain on water resources and it also increases the likelihood of toxic run-off polluting our streams and water ways.

Methane from enteric fermentation of ruminant animals (scientific for farts) makes up 31% of our total harmful emissions.

2. Power Generation

66% of our power generation comes from Hydro but since 1990 emissions from public electricity and heat generation have risen 134%. Hydro generation is a 'moving target'. In times of low lake levels we fire up those coal plants to supplement the short fall. We are very much behind other countries (especially Germany) when it comes to a clear policy around micro-power generation or return-on-investment from home based wind turbines or solar generators. Germany and a number of other countries have clear policies around what are called 'Feed-in Tariffs' or FiTs. A FiT sets a defined or fixed rate of return for selling excess power back to the grid. This rate is set to allow a reasonable return for the consumer on the high setup costs of installing a micro-generator. Our government profits to the tune of many 100's of millions of dollars from selling 'dirty power' but does not yet give any incentive to the consumer to contribute to 'zero emission' power generation. The reality is that in the future electric or hydrogen vehicles will require a third more electricity than we can currently generate. Most power companies have or do try to install bigger wind farms but most of the biggest wind farms are blocked by resource consent issues, back lash from residents living in proximity of the development or a total lack of return on investment. A few years ago a plan by Meridian energy to build 60kms of canals and 6 hydro stations on the Waitaki River in the South Island was canned due to local back-lash from many parties including Kai Tahu, the local iwi. Kai Tahu submitted that Project Aqua would cause big losses on cultural/spiritual values, loss of 'big river' affecting mana, loss of mahika kai sites and loss of tributaries. The Green Party was also a big proponent against Meridians plans.

So, we do not encourage micro-generation, we do not want wind farms 'in our back yard', we will not allow nuclear power plants and we fight any new hydro developments. At the same time we complain about burning coal.

Would the last person to leave the country please turn out the lights.

3. Transportation

In 2005 road transport contributed 16.4% of emissions. Since 1990 diesel transport emissions are up 236% whilst petrol emissions are up 27.4%.

For years now successive governments have allowed or ignored the rampant importation of old Japanese cars that would fail European emission tests. Vehicles older than seven years are known to be significantly dirtier than newer vehicles. I have read estimates that over 1,000 Nz'ers die each year from the effects of this pollution. This is a higher number than the deaths from second hand smoke yet we were quicker to stop smokers lighting up in bars. It is only a year ago that the government proposed a '10 second visible smoke test' when going for a Warrant of Fitness. The visible smoke test does not detect the invisible particulates than fill our air. The government, in fact, whimped out on making a gas analyser mandatory due to the cost.

What then is a life worth?

4. eWaste or electronic waste

A number of countries have adopted what is called RoHS. This is a restriction on certain hazardous substances in electrical and electronic equipment. In countries where RoHS ia mandatory the manufacturer must provide a BOM (Bill of Materials) attesting that the electronic equipment does not contain or contains within certain allowable limits substances such as lead, mercury, cadmium, Hexavalent Chromium, Polybrominated biphenyls (PBB) Flame retardant and Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDE) Flame retardant. There is much debate about what is allowable and at what levels but here in New Zealand we have no requirement for electronic products to be RoHS declared. The clear purpose of RoHS is to limit the amount of hazardous waste ending up in landfill.

Most of the electronic waste in our country is simply dumped, there are small scale computer recyclers and Dell has run a few drop-off days for old computers and monitors. We have no legislation or co-ordinated body to deal with the eWaste issue.


As all us Geeks know, the life cycle of our beloved toys is getting shorter and shorter. We are upgrading and disposing at a growing rate. IDG quotes that around 450,000 PC's are sold in this country each year add to that all the TV's, cell phones, MP3 players and you can start to see what a problem this really is.

5. Household rubbish

We are actually not that thrifty or thoughtful at all when it comes to disposing of waste. In fact we have an ever growing waste problem. Local councils are leading the way in finding solutions but a lot of the damage has already been done.

Nationally we dispose of 3.4 million tonnes of rubbish into landfills every year and out of this total nearly 282 thousand tonnes is considered to be hazardous. Each day we throw out 1 million disposable nappies which take hundreds of years to break down.

A nationwide study in 1992 identified 7,200 potentially contaminated sites of which 716 are landfill and 1,580 sites are considered a potential high risk to human health and/or the environment.

About me and my eco-ness:

I am the atypical kiwi. I own three cars, I drive to work each day and do not use public transport. I fill a large wheelie bin each week with little supermarket bag 'rubbish missiles' filled with plastic wrappers and disposable nappies. My house is full of inefficient Halogen spot lights and I consume electricity like it is free. My two home theater systems and televisions are always on 'stand by'. Every week we fill at least 10 plastic supermarket bags with shopping. Last year I sent to landfill one old TV, a microwave, a stereo, two monitors and a broken PC.

I admit it I am lazy, apathetic and I have never really thought about the environment but writing this blog has certainly raised my awareness of the issues we face. If there is a hell for consumers and polluters I have definitely booked a place. I am now going to try to make amends by doing some very simple things:

1. Learn what can and can not be recycled or put in the 'green bin'

2. Buy some reusable bags for grocery shopping

3. Stop using plastic bags in the kitchen rubbish bin to cut down on 'rubbish missiles'

4. Turn off the home theatre system/s and TV's.

5. Try and replace some of my lighting with energy efficient bulbs

6. Think about what I am sending to landfill and dispose of my old electronics wisely

7. Get a smaller wheelie bin or change to fortnightly collections

8. Consider cycling to work a few days a week and selling one car

I know it doesn't seem much and you could argue that we should give up the disposable nappies and I should bus to work, but with no legislation or laws governing my eco-behavior it is my choice what I will and will not do.

Doing something is apparently better than doing nothing.

Other related posts:
I Smell a Conspiracy
Disposal of Eco-bulbs
Welcome to Vuestar

Comment by Sinn, on 31-Jul-2007 14:57

I'd have to agree with your views on this. There is an illusion that NZ is clean and green but even walking down the street you see so much rubbish on the streets it's disgusting. Having just come back from Japan not long ago, it's amazing to think that in a city of Tokyo's size with a population of 4-5 times New Zealand's total population the streets are still clean.

We could certainly learn alot from other countries, regarding public transport, recycling of all rubbish including electronics, and renewable power.

Comment by paradoxsm, on 31-Jul-2007 19:35

1. Cannot be avoided, unless you house all the cows in sheds and pipe off the farts!

2. Blame the power companies whom are interested only in HUGE PROFITS for their overseas owners.

3. blame the lack of trains, I watched as I was growing up, the freight trains just all get smashed up for scrap steel (Wiri/Otahuhu), now we all use huge, slow, polluting trucks whom also block up teams of polluting cars behind them.

4. Blame the "make it cheap n china to chuck" mentality, I have "modern" devices which are 10 years old which are still in every day use, My TV is a 1984 model, so is my VCR, both receive a much nicer picture than any modern junk, I have replaced the amp chip and Lithium battery in the TV and belts and tyres in the Sansui VCR

5. Blame the companies, Packaging has just gotten disgusting. I no longer eat meat unless it's a "must do for time" and when that is I go to somewhere like burgerfuel and buy everything in the largest packs possible.

Everything is made of such unnessesariliy thick plastics too, Ugh!

I'm not super-green but my footprint would be very low, all my electronics get recycled, hey i'm a tech!

Comment by Paul McKeon, on 31-Jul-2007 22:03

Hi, glad to hear you've heard about Dell's recycle days -- we actually offer options 365 days a year too. If you have a Dell PC we'll recycle it for free or if you buy a Dell PC and live in Auckland, Wellington or Christchurch we'll recycle your old one, any brand, for free (see www.dell.co.nz/recycle). We also want to design the greenest PC in the world and are asking people to help us, see www.dell.com/green. Cheers, Paul @ Dell

Comment by Quentin Duthie, on 1-Aug-2007 18:07

Hi Gary. Mostly good analysis. Doing the little things is a good place to start. Check out the Green's pocket guide http://www.greens.org.nz/campaigns/climate/climate-pocket-guide.pdf for more ideas: NB. a new version is due out soon. All the best.

1. Animal methane is expelled as "burps" rather than "farts". More at:


2. Not all renewable energy projects are appropriate. Project Aqua would have severely impacted on ecological and recreational values of the Waitaki river. The Greens support renewable generation in principle, but reserve the right to oppose inappropriate ones. Think-big projects are not the answer, and indeed there is no acceptable answer unless we start reining in demand. More at:


3. Getting commuters onto public transport is essential for the big cities, and the Greens have made good progress in convinving the Government to increase funding for PT, e.g. Auckland rail electrification. But road cost and affects are still unfairly subsidised more than rail, and there is more to be done. More at http://www.greens.org.nz/campaigns/transport/

4&5. Nandor's Waste bill currently before the Select Committee will introduce a levy on waste-to-landfill that is ringfenced for waste reduction initiatives; and a form of Product Stewardship that requires the end-of-life cost ($ and environmental) to be considered by brand owners. E-waste is a priority - it is such a waste of resources. More at:


Comment by Elisabeth Mikkelsen, on 29-Jan-2008 10:36

You asked to hear about "me". Please understand that what I do, I do because it suits me and because it saves me money and gives me more time to enjoy REAL LIVING. What I say here is not to brag about my efforts for the environment, but sheer selfish living ( if only other people would realize how easy, how economically productive and communication producing this way of living is). You should know I am in my later years.

In other words, I live out of the city, commute by train and bicycle, do not own a car, do not own a television, grown my own veges and buy most clothes and goods second hand. Transport is 99% by bicycle and 1% with friends or rental car. I have more time to sit in the garden and read, I am able to survive on working 3 days per week and do volunteer work the other two and still have leisure time. I do not feel that I am suffering any deprivation.

Try it - it makes perfect sense.

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