‘No time to lose’: Climate change action is accelerating the cost of living crisis

Whanganui District Council has prioritized climate change over the cost of living crisis, voting to introduce home recycling and food waste collections.

In two separate votes, councilors decided to introduce weekly collections despite a clear message from submissions that food waste collection was not wanted.

The council received 284 official submissions on the proposal to include weekly collections in its annual and long-term plans. Of these, 63% supported a new recycling collection service each week, but only 35% supported the weekly food scraps collection.

Cost and its impact on rates was the main objection to a food waste management service, with many respondents saying they compost their own leftovers or produce minimal food waste.

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But Councilor Alan Taylor, who chairs the council’s infrastructure, climate change and emergencies committee, reminded the council last week of its commitment to act on climate change.

“If it works, we need to start now, and there’s no time to waste,” Taylor told the board.

“The global climate threat is by far the biggest thing we have faced as a human civilization.”

In a consultation paper, the council said most food waste goes straight to the bin and then to landfill, where it creates methane as it decomposes, contributing to climate change.

Curbside collection would divert 1,700 tonnes of food waste in Whanganui from landfill and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 307 tonnes of CO2e per year, equivalent to removing 100 fossil fuel cars per year from the roads , the council said. The waste collected would be used to make compost.

“We have heard [last week] of the immediate threat to housing in Whanganui due to rising sea levels and flooding,” Taylor said.

“We have to start doing really important environmental things if we are going to tackle the problem. The kind of things we can do in this council start right here with that kind of action.

Council staff said new government funding from litter taxes could be used to reduce the target rate for curbside collections by 20%.

Curbside recycling from mid-2023 would cost $2.14 per week and food waste collection, from mid-2024, $0.82 per week.

The government splits waste taxes – paid by landfills – between councils for use in waste reduction initiatives.

General manager of property and open spaces, Sarah O’Hagan, said waste taxes are set to rise significantly through 2026 and the council could seek more of that funding to further reduce costs.

She said the government had consulted on a proposal that would require all councils to implement curbside food waste collections in urban areas by 2030.

CFO Mike Fermor said starting food waste collection from 2024 would give the council two years to consider more funding opportunities, such as using ‘better off’ funding from the Three Waters. government to buy electric trucks or lidded bins.

Several councilors spoke out against collecting leftover food, citing the impact on fares, cost of living pressures and the number of bids against the proposal.

Councilor Philippa Baker-Hogan said there was no mandate to start food waste collection, especially when the cost of living was the biggest issue facing the community.

“Of 284 submissions, only 35% supported it. How are we going to earn the trust of our community when we submit proposals and they submit them, and we don’t support those proposals? It’s a step too far for now.

Councilor Charlie Anderson said the decision should be left to the new council.

But Mayor Hamish McDouall said now is the time – and now is not the time to worry about tariffs.

“While we currently have a cost of living crisis and always have to consider the widow living in a bigger house on a fixed income, I worry about the legacy we will leave for the next generation.

“If we don’t do the things that matter right now, we’re letting them down because they’re going to inherit a world that will be impossible to live in.

Whanganui Mayor Hamish McDouall said climate change will affect us all and will require action at the community level.

RNZ / Robin Martin

Whanganui Mayor Hamish McDouall said climate change will affect us all and will require action at the community level.

“Can I tell you what our biggest crisis is? It’s climate change – and it will remain so for the duration of each of our political lives.”

Regarding objections to food waste collection, he said:

“It’s like people saying why build a bike lane when I don’t have a bike, or I don’t have kids who will enjoy Kowhai Park because my kids are middle-aged, why I contribute to the playground.

“He waka eke noa – we are in this together. The climate change crisis will affect us all. We work in community. »

McDouall acknowledged that 56% of bidders were against food waste collection, but said the consultation process was not a referendum.

“We hear the community and we make the decision on the facts before us. I totally support that, it was about time we were behind, let’s be on the cutting edge and take the lead.

Councilor Rob Vinsen strongly supported both collections, but said neither would solve the green waste problem.

“Emissions from green waste in landfills are significantly higher than emissions from food waste. We will look at an opt-in system for green waste. This is a very important part of our total waste management plan and hopefully we get there fairly quickly,” Vinsen said.

A councilor (Charlie Anderson) voted against curbside recycling. Four voted against food waste collection (Brent Crossan, Hadleigh Reid, Philippa Baker-Hogan and Charlie Anderson).

Only households in the collection areas – urban Whanganui, Fordell, Marybank and Mōwhānau – will pay the targeted tariff for the new services. The Whanganui Resource Recovery Center at Maria Place will remain open for households in rural areas and to collect items that cannot be collected curbside.

Two recycling stations will also be tested in rural areas.