Sustainable Living Information


About 93% of the ‘raw materials’ we use were thrown away during the production process, and about 80% of the stuff we buy is thrown away after one use: a sobering thought!  New Zealanders throw away more rubbish per person than people in most developed countries. The wealthier we have got the more we have wasted.

Thesolid waste’ deposited in NZ landfills, from industrial and domestic sources combined, is 3.4 million tons a year. Landfill is the principal means of disposal of rubbish in New Zealand. Many older and smaller landfill sites have poor environmental standards and are being closed.

The average NZ polythene sack or ‘wheelie bin’ of mixed domestic rubbish, collected from the kerbside by a local authority, has, by weight:

  • between 42% and 47% garden clippings and kitchen scraps (often more when in bins, less in sacks)
  • 26% to 34% paper, cardboard, newspapers, advertising flyers and mixed-material packaging. 
  • 8 to 11% plastics
  • 3 to 6% glass
  • 3 to 6% metals and
  • 2 to 4% other (including potentially hazardous items such as solvents, cleaning and garden chemicals, batteries, paints, medicines).

Why are landfills a problem?

The problem with putting materials into earth-sealed landfill is that the land is permanently lost from agricultural, housing or business use – landfills in the past have been unstable, emitted flammable methane gas, unpleasant smells and have soil contamination.

It is an expensive process, not least to buy land and provide engineering safeguards such as clay layers, collection pipes and pumps that prevent a toxic leachate from reaching groundwater or streams.

It is a waste of nutrients, from the garden clippings and food scraps, which could otherwise be returned usefully to soil, through natural cycles of decay. And it is a waste of many other materials, which if separated at the source, instead of being mixed, could be recovered affordably.

For a summary of Government policy of moving towards zero waste see ‘The New Zealand Waste Strategy at a Glance’ available free from Ministry for the Environment: 04 917 7400

The Strategy’s aim is to: minimise and manage hazardous waste; upgrade landfill disposal facilities so that older and dirtier sites can be closed; upgrade waste water treatment plants (which will help clean up the beaches), promote composting and recycling of garden and kitchen wastes; and  encourage re-use/recycling of building site and demolition materials. Waste generators are to be charged the environmental cost of treatment and disposal: this is the principle of the polluter pays.

Challenging three myths of rubbish

Surveys of households have shown some commonly-held false ideas:

1.      The Council gets rid of it” – they do transport it but it does not disappear, and most of it goes into managed landfills.

2.      Rubbish breaks down in the ground” – it actually persists for many years in an airtight landfill, so that a newspaper or book would still be readable after 40 years!

3.      The Council sorts out the useful stuff”. -They don’t.  But the householder or business can, before it goes to the kerbside.

Influences upon our growing wastefulness

Here’s a range of examples for group discussion – you could add to this list.

We live busy lives and seek convenience and speed, which sometimes comes in the form of pre-cooked or processed foods, which have to be kept fresh and safe by their packaging. We do not see the waste that’s involved in their manufacture. 

By comparison, home-made food from fresh ingredients involves less packaging. Food scraps such as veg peelings can be composted or fed to worms.

We eat canned and bottled food even when the shops are full of fresh ‘seasonal’ food.  In a year, the typical New Zealander eats the equivalent of a domestic bath-volume of tinned food – and each week throws away 10 steel food cans plus a similar number of glass food jars and frozen food plastic or card packs. The cans and glass have to be collected and transported a distance for recycling, sometimes overseas, or they otherwise get buried in landfill. 

Composite or mixed materials are becoming more common in packaging. These include wax on cardboard cartons, and plastic film and foil bonded onto paper, making a packaging that’s strong and lightweight to transport, but hard to recycle. Some labels on plastic containers are a different plastic from the container. Other examples of mixed packaging materials are ‘blister packs’ of clear plastic glued to bar-code printed card, on items that traditionally were sold loose. Supermarkets drove this trend.

‘No deposit – no return’. Very few products in NZ have a container  deposit charged which is refundable on return of the container, and even the returnable thicker-glass milk bottle (capable of up to 50 return trips) and returnable brown beer bottle are becoming rare. In other countries, where legislation requires certain containers to be returnable, and of standard shapes/sizes, recovery rates can rise above 70% and street litter is also reduced.

Some items are intentionally ‘throw-away’. Proportionately fewer goods on sale these days are designed for repair or renewal by the user, and more are designed for short-term ‘fashionable’ use followed by disposal (and, the manufacturer and retailers hope, by prompt replacement with new items). Examples range from disposable plastic pens and razors to babies’ nappies, toys and those electronic goods labelled ‘sealed - unserviceable’.

Daily newspapers accumulate fast. Every tonne recycled saves 17 trees and 26,000 litres of water in the papermaking process.

Typically, 45% of domestic rubbish is garden and kitchen material  (known as green waste or organic waste) that natural systems could break down into useful nutrients for the soil, in suitably damp and aerated conditions, such as when compost-making. Nutrients can also be reclaimed in your kitchen using sealed bucket fermentation with EM Bokashi (The effective micro-organisms mixture of

Naturally-occurring yeasts, lactic acid bacteria and actinomycetes).

For further information look up EM at  or visit the EM shop

In contrast, when sealed from air inside a landfill site, green waste decomposes without oxygen to make a toxic liquid (leachate) that may later threaten groundwater quality, and this sealed decomposition also makes methane gas. It eventually escapes to the atmosphere, where methane contributes to global warming, so it has to be collected and stored or used on site as a substitute for other fuels.

We need to avoid putting organic material into landfills, to reduce methane and leachate pollution, to save on expensive managed disposal space and also to return nutrients to the soil. Composting on a local-neighbourhood or civic commercial scale is possible, as well as composting in your garden, but it involves transport of the materials, kept separate from other ‘rubbish’.  NZ Government has a target of 60% green wastes diverted from landfill.

Compost ingredients: a 2 to 1 mix by volume of browns (e.g. autumn leaves, straw) and greens (e.g. vegetable peelings, grass), plus air, a little water, helpful insects, fungi and bacteria, for a natural decay process, aided by occasional turning. It produces safe, useful garden fertiliser/soil conditioner. Our detailed notes on compost explain how.


Household storage of hazardous chemicals

If you have purchased commercially prepared household cleaners, here are some tips on how to use them carefully and how to dispose of them.

·         Always store hazardous chemical products (such as bleach) in their original containers so that handling and disposal instructions on labels can be followed and so that other possible users are not misled about the contents.

·         Always store hazardous chemical products in properly closed containers, in well-ventilated areas and in places where children and pets cannot reach.

·         Be careful not to store bleaches too close to ammonia or acids. A chlorine bleach and ammonia mixture creates a highly poisonous chlorine gas. Never use vinegar and bleach together.

Recycling of household hazardous wastes

If you have unwanted leftover and maybe hazardous products, other than medicine and certain pesticides, Ring your Regional Council to enquire about safe disposal options.

Be sure to only pass them on in their original containers, with their original labels, and whenever possible with any safety notices or instruction leaflets that came with them.

Disposal of oven cleaners, toilet bowl cleaners, sink & drain cleaners, bleaches, rust removers and most acid and alkali products:

Always try to completely use-up the product or to pass it onto other people for the intended use.

Unwanted or leftover portions must be sealed in their original containers and disposed of at a local authority household hazardous waste drop-off or transfer station.

Empty aerosol containers and other metal and plastic chemical containers can be recycled (codes 1 and 2) once rinsed out with water or disposed of with your ordinary rubbish.  They should not be re-used to store other materials if the original label is still visible: re-label if you re-use!

Disposal of paint and solvents, energy-saving light bulbs[1], spot removers, carpet and furniture cleaners, floor and furniture polishes and glues and other hazardous household materials:

Always try to use-up these products completely or pass on to other users.

Find out where your nearest hazardous waste storage facility operates, usually at Council Waste Transfer Stations or Depots.  Hazardous household waste, clearly labelled, can probably be deposited at this Depot for FREE. Ring the nearest such facility for further information. Four regions of NZ are served by the HazMobile (an ARC project), a free service for householders who want to dispose of their unwanted hazardous materials safely and responsibly This service is funded and run by the ARC but hope to work with other councils to expand the scheme nationwide.

Disposal of prescription medicines and over the counter drugs:

Never pass on prescription medicines or over the counter drugs, to anyone.

Unwanted leftovers must not be left lying around for children to find!  These can be returned to your local pharmacy for safe disposal.  Do not flush antibiotics and other prescription drugs down the toilet as they may later affect river and marine life. Antibiotic and other tablets can be put within your other rubbish for collection and safe landfi