Sunday 2 April 2023

MfE's circular goals

"The circular file" used to be a euphemism for the garbage can. "Oh, yes, I did get your useless memo. I put it in the circular file." 

Was reminded of it when reading the reporting on the Ministry for the Environment's latest Circular Aotearoa paper. 

Energy News writes:

The Government is wary of waste-to-energy schemes conflicting with its wider goal for a circular bioeconomy.

Environment Minister David Parker has announced an overhaul of waste management and recycling and a strategy for reducing rubbish volumes and cutting landfill emissions.

But the Getting Rid of Waste for a Circular Aotearoa New Zealand paper expresses scepticism that energy projects are better than alternative uses for waste diverted from the tip.

Pyrolysis and gasification of municipal solid waste projects are “unlikely to align with our circular economy goals,” the Ministry for the Environment says in the document.  

Such schemes are commonly used in Europe and North America to process waste into an energy source.

But MFE says these are technically challenging projects likely to create hazardous by-products and greenhouse gas emissions.

We have a tech-neutral energy grid. If you can supply power, put your bids in to supply. Easy. If you're not competitive as a generator, you're going to be out of luck. 

We have a tech-neutral ETS (barring biogenic methane from agriculture). If you emit carbon, you pay for it. Just like everyone else. 

And landfills cover their costs through tip fees. And they get charged for any methane. And Wellington's landfill turns that waste methane into energy, burning it off to make money from electricity and save on carbon charges.

If a waste-to-energy plant can pay its own way, in that landscape, then it's obviously ok (subject to meeting non-CO2 emission standards on any smokestacks - and plenty can). If it produces greenhouse gasses, it has to pay for them. It can't force anyone to deliver it trash for feedstock; it has to be at least as attractive as other alternatives. 

But that isn't good enough for MfE. You see, MfE has very strong preferences about how we all live our lives. And good living, for them, is circular. Old clothes? Turn them into a patchwork quilt! Use $300 of your valuable time to fix a $5 gadget rather than use up $0.05 of space in a landfill. Organic material shouldn't go into a waste-to-energy plant to produce electricity! No! You should spend multiples of that cost to compost it, and maybe get some mulch that somebody can use later. 

Any incoming government would be well advised to put MfE into the circular file and start over. 

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