Electric trucks and deadly waste

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    Early Wednesday morning, an Isuzu NQR rolled off the ferry at Kennedy Point – a rather prosaic moment for what’s quite a pioneering achievement for Waiheke.

    The truck marks the first ever electric vehicle to be added to Auckland Council’s kerbside refuse and recycling fleet and the fact it’s happening on Waiheke is testament to efforts to make the new Community Resource Recovery Park – aka the tip – something the island can be proud of when it comes to dealing with our waste.

    There’s no skirting the fact that the shift from the previous “waste transfer station” to the current “resource recovery park” setup has been a little rocky and there’s been a fair amount of change for residents and users to contend with – not the least, the end of the Good Hope “tip shop”, the proliferation of yellow wheelie bins and fortnightly rather than weekly recycling collections. And, of course, the site at Ostend Road has been beset by Covid restrictions and the upheaval of the seemingly neverending roadworks and traffic lights right on their doorstep.

    Almost exactly a year ago I wrote about the first inklings of the team that would become the Waiheke Zero Waste Partnership and run the CRRP; about how, finally, community organisations such as Clean Island and the Island Waste Collective, would be able to focus on “upcycling, recycling, dismantling… and working as a team to give waste a second chance”. 

    At the time, the key was that there were “bigger things to come”. That zero emission Isuzu truck is one of those bigger things.

    The success of this venture, however, is also going to rely on how some of the smaller things are executed and there’s no escaping the grumblings that have headed the way of Gulf News about issues such as families having too much recycling for their fortnightly blue bin collection. More than once this past week, I’ve heard from people saying they have resorted to putting recyclables out for landfill in the red bins, simply for a lack of space.

    Perhaps more education and information could have gone out over past months to help people come up with ways to adapt how they consider waste and recycling to avoid these murmurings of discontent. Certainly, the most important factor in whether the CRRP hits its marks for reducing waste on Waiheke will be in how its team convinces us all to reduce our own waste on Waiheke. 

    Their success relies not just on their changes – but in how they can convince us to change.

    A fair example of this occurred a fortnight ago when twice in just a matter of hours, the CRRP had to close down for decontamination after asbestos was dumped there from building sites. 

    The first occasion was on Tuesday 25 August, and although the team quickly identified the hazardous material, it still took until Wednesday morning for Hamish Cormack’s Contaminated Site Remediation workers to clean the site up.

    Incredibly, the company was then called back just a few hours later that Wednesday after another load containing asbestos was found and the site had to close down again until late Thursday morning.

    In all, the total cleanup involved up to 10 tonnes of waste and cost, according to Marcus Braithwaite, Auckland Council’s Senior Waste Specialist, $17,000. 

    “The $17,000 was just to clean up at the CRRP. I have been advised that the clean-up and removal at the building site was an additional $20,000,” Mr Braithwaite said. “If the person had hired a certified expert to remove the asbestos at the beginning it would’ve only cost about $5000.” 

    On top of that, WorkSafe told Gulf News that having been notified of the incident and after visiting the site, it had issued a Prohibition Notice. “The Prohibition Notice remains in place and will not be lifted until clearance has been given by an approved asbestos assessor.”

    Mr Cormack was full of praise for how the CRRP team dealt with what’s a potentially life-threatening issue to happen in a workplace (it was spotted quickly by the loader driver, and then isolated and covered) but warned that because asbestos was used in buildings right up until the late 90s and even early 2000s due to stockpiled materials, there’s plenty of scope for renovators, builders – even home-DIYers – to come across it on Waiheke.

    The answer, of course, is for us to have a more considered opinion about that hulking building on Ostend Road and what we all send there. Asbestos might be at the more extreme end of waste and require forethought and a specific system of disposal, but the upheaval it caused and decontamination it required is not a million miles away from the effect of swathes of people dumping their recycling in the rubbish bins, or not trying to limit the amount of total waste they create. 

    The team at the CRRP is changing how they do things – the new electric truck is testament to that. Now it’s maybe time for us to change as well. • James Belfield

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