How big is our waste problem in New Zealand?

Jun, 08, 2020, by Laura Taylor

Our lives have been conditioned by convenience. So much so, that you can buy pretty much anything from the comfort of your bedroom. We buy sporting equipment that remains in the cupboard year-round, toys that our kids only play with a couple of times, clothes that we never wear, electronic gadgets that become outdated a year down the line and the list goes on. Did you know that more than 100 billion tonnes of materials entered the global economy in 2019? There are now more phones on the planet than people? Or that the amount of clothes purchased is forecast to reach more than 92 million tonnes by 2030? In New Zealand alone, we discard 15.5 million tonnes of waste each year. This is equivalent to 3,200kg of waste per Kiwi, one of the highest levels in the world and only 28% of this waste is currently recycled.

As a society, we all need to be more conscious of the things we buy and our individual impact on planet earth. There’s no need to buy and store things you don’t use regularly as times are changing rapidly, and it is affecting us all. Mutu is currently developing its sustainability reporting framework and metrics to report on to stakeholders, in line with the Mutu teams vision to prepare periodic integrated reports on a range of UN Sustainable Development Goals. In order to do so effectively, Mutu’s systems will produce operational and financial statistics on a range of metrics, based on research and operating results we continue to review.

For example, Mutu will not have a central office for the foreseeable future. Our aim is to remain flexible, work remotely or hot desk to use facilities already in existence, unless there is an actual need to be in a formal permanent office. This is unlikely based on the lean and agile model we have in place. Mutu’s approach is aligned with a growing and positive realization from the virus LockDown, which we are hearing globally. That is that many businesses in LockDown have been able to work very effectively in spite of remoteness. Especially so in the digital space we are advocating should be focussed on to replace traditional export industries in New Zealand. The resulting benefits to mental health and well-being are likely based on greater flexibility to balance home and family demands with work. Our team’s Know How based output is based on a results orientation, rather than a Time Clock presence model. Such an outdated legacy from the Industrial Era we think.

Other aspects that will be measured and reported on are the landfill avoided. Latest New Zealand and global news report that recycling is severely affected by the closing of borders. Pressures on our landfill facilities are therefore growing due to recycling being dumped in Landfill, as this cannot be exported. Even when exportation was possible there have been many issues with our recycling being dumped or burnt overseas. Our NIMBY approach has left the legacy emissions in Asia for the locals to enjoy. We have a problem.

This challenge is now increasingly well recognized through Zero Waste policies such as the one in Auckland. This has an aspirational zero waste target by 2040, in spite of a projected increase of solid landfill to double in the next decade. Mutu aims to contribute a solution through our platform to enable reuse and repurposing for mutual benefit. Internationally, durable goods make up 20% of landfill. This is exactly the target category for Mutu, as the Durable Goods classification includes furniture, electronic equipment, outdoor gear, bicycles and so forth. Rather sad to find that all these Durable Goods, which as the title suggests are exactly that in principle, end up in landfills in increasing volumes to serve no purpose. Mutu has been keeping an eye on landfills to get some first-hand impressions. It is amazing what one may find on a daily basis, from leather fauteuils to high-end stereo equipment, paintings, skis, lawnmowers and the like, all coming through in a huge volume. And yes, the occasional Picasso but we are keeping that one a secret.

Our opinion is that there are major opportunities to repair, refashion and reuse all of these items. Did you know that the majority of the CD players dumped at tips are thrown out because the lens is dirty? All it takes is a $10 lens cleaning kit to get the CD or DVD player to work again, perfectly fine. What a shame. And what are all those rare earths, metals and plastics doing in the dump after that? Our landfills will soon have higher concentrations of rare earths than their original conflict mines that initially produced them. Mutu will investigate and define full Life Cycle Assessments to bring more clarity to the debate, based on our global operational experience and reporting. Just imagine, flexible remote working, more time to spend with family, and some time to go and get that lens cleaner to repair the trusty audio system. And then rent it out on Mutu. So now's the time to join Mutu in our efforts to buy less, share more and reduce waste in New Zealand.

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