Today the vibrant city of Auckland has 1.6 million residents and is still growing. Projections show the population will reach 2.5 million by 2041, and there is a significant amount of work required to establish the infrastructure needed to deal with this growth.

Safely managing the waste of the people who choose to live in Auckland, as well as the infrastructure needed to support them, is what Waste Management does. It is why in May 2019 the company lodged a resource consent application with Auckland Council to establish a landfill to cater for the Auckland region – known as Auckland Regional Landfill.

Auckland’s waste needs

Despite zero waste aspirations, and best efforts to recycle and reuse, by 2040 Auckland Council estimates there will be 2.7 million tonnes of regional waste to landfill per year.

To manage this waste, Class 1 Municipal Solid Waste landfills are identified in the Auckland Unitary Plan as infrastructure of critical importance to the growth of the region.

Auckland currently has two modern, sustainable landfills in Whitford and Dairy Flat (Redvale). Whitford is consented to receive waste until 2041, while Redvale is expected to stop receiving waste in 2028.

Action is needed now to ensure Aucklanders’ waste can continue to be disposed of safely when Redvale closes. It is critical to the health and wellbeing of the whole community.

Auckland Council’s waste to landfill projections for the Auckland region.

Why is landfill the right solution?

While the community, business and the waste industry are striving to minimise the amount of waste generated and then to recycle as much of this as possible, there remains a need to safely contain what cannot be recycled. The most sustainable, environmentally responsible solution available to New Zealand is landfill.

Modern engineered landfills are nothing like the legacy “dumps” of the past. A modern landfill and energy centre is a high-tech facility which produces renewable energy and protects the natural environment for our future generations.

Auckland Regional Landfill will be built to world-leading environmental standards. Waste Management is in the fortunate position of being able to combine the best design and operational aspects of Redvale Landfill and Energy Park in Dairy Flat and Kate Valley Landfill in Canterbury to develop New Zealand’s most advanced modern landfill.

As well as capturing over 95% of the methane gas produced and converting it to electricity to feed into the national grid, there will be a complex lining system to contain the waste. Leachate will be captured and continuously removed for treatment by evaporation, which removes the risk of it entering ground water and local streams. The minimal stormwater that comes into contact with waste is also treated as leachate.

Using gas engine and electric generators like these pictured at Redvale, Waste Management’s landfill and energy parks can currently power the equivalent of 23,000 homes with renewable energy.

Leading up to the construction of the landfill, all stream water flowing from the landfill and groundwater is being tested to determine a benchmark. When/ if the landfill is operational, these streams and groundwater bores will be closely monitored and the results reported to Council.

The waste will be compacted as it is placed and the operating tip face covered at the end of each day to control nuisance such as pests, litter and odour.

Auckland Regional Landfill will feature these key components of a modern, engineered landfill.

Why Wayby Valley?

The proposed site in Wayby Valley, is 70km from Auckland’s CBD, 13km north of Warkworth and 6km south of Wellsford. It was chosen after an extensive search for an area that would allow Auckland to manage its own waste responsibly within its regional limits. Many factors were considered including access to state highways, distance from neighbours, avoidance of areas of cultural significance and sensitive environmental areas.

The site is also ideal from a technical, engineering perspective.

By locating the landfill at the head of a valley well above any flood zones, the location avoids a situation where stormwater from off-site will pose a risk to the landfill operation or the surrounding environment.

Redvale’s stormwater ponds are popular with aquatic birds.

There is a significant buffer zone within the property (a minimum of 1km buffer to the nearest neighbour), which offers huge opportunities for ecological enhancements to the site, including riparian planting, new native tree planting and enhancement and protection of wetlands. Bikers and hikers would also benefit from new tracks in the area, including a 5km track along Waiwhiu Stream.

What about the alternatives to landfill?

There are currently no viable alternatives to landfill available for disposal of large quantities of waste in the Auckland region.

There has been some discussion around the suitability of waste-to-energy incineration, but this technology is generally used in large, densely populated cities and towns in Europe and Asia with much larger volumes of waste than Auckland.

A continuous and immense feed of waste is needed to power such plants, more than is produced in Auckland – meaning waste would need to be brought into the region from around the country and perhaps overseas. The continuous long-term need for more waste goes against the aspirations we have in New Zealand for waste reduction

In addition, unlike modern landfills, which capture greenhouse gas emissions, incineration involves the burning of plastics (carbon) which would impact on New Zealand’s carbon footprint and global emissions and also impede our progress towards achieving the targets agreed to in the Paris Agreement.

Finally, not all wastes can be incinerated and incinerators also still produce waste (ash) that is generally taken to a hazardous landfill for safe disposal.

Auckland Regional Landfill will be modelled on Redvale Landfill & Energy Park (pictured) and Kate Valley Landfill, which are recognised as world leaders for outstanding environmental practices. Pictured behind Redvale is a neighbouring aubergine greenhouse complex, which the landfill provides energy to for heating and hot water.

Community consultation

As soon as Waste Management received Overseas Investment Office approval in late 2018, engagement with the community commenced and information about the proposed project was provided to iwi, neighbours and the general public.

Open days on the property in Wayby Valley enabled Waste Management’s team to answer questions and listen to the community’s views about the project in person, including understanding any concerns.

Meetings, hui and consultation has continued since then. Resource consent application was lodged with Auckland Council in May 2019, and the application documentation was immediately made available to the community.

While this is not common for a resource consent process, Waste Management believed it was a good idea due to the amount of information in the application and the community interest in the project.

This has provided an extended period for people to review the detailed material, including many expert reports, prior to developing submissions. It has also expanded and deepened the engagement over a period of many months.

In addition to the resource consent, Waste Management is seeking a Private Plan Change to have the land owned by WMNZ in Wayby Valley recognised in the Auckland Unitary Plan by creating a precinct over the land with specific rules for a landfill. If this change is made, it will mean the precinct will be clearly identified on the Auckland Unitary Plan maps for anyone to see and also that future generations are aware from the maps that the precinct contains a landfill.

While the resource consent and Private Plan Change are two separate processes, many of the expert reports apply to both applications, so they are running concurrently at this point.

Auckland Council’s public consultation period for both applications ended on 26 May, with just under 1,000 submissions received, showing a great interest in the project. Waste Management was pleased with the response and is currently reviewing submissions in detail.

One of the common concerns raised is potential threat to the Hoteo River and the Kaipara Harbour posed by the landfill. This concern is taken very seriously, however Waste Management is confident the comprehensive liner, leachate and stormwater management systems, in addition to the wetlands proposed, will protect these waterways for future generations.

In the meantime, consultation and engagement continues.

What’s next?

At the time of writing, Waste Management is waiting for Auckland Council to set a timeline and appoint commissioners to run the resource consent and Private Plan Change hearings. If consents are granted with suitable conditions, initial construction could start in 2022, with the landfill able to receive waste between 2026 and 2028. When the landfill comes to the end of its expected 35 year life, it will continue to be looked after by Waste Management from an environmental perspective and will also become available for alternative uses such as open space recreation or light commercial activities suitable for the site and location at that time.

This article appears in the latest issue of WasteMINZ’s Revolve magazine.