omarunui landfill

Wasted Tour

Omarunui Land-fill / 
12 November 2019 / 
By Ian Thomas

The bus itself is perfectly themed for our excursion. It’s an old-school, old school pahi. For resale purposes  it may be described as retro or vintage but those terms won’t make it any more comfortable. The seat spacing is designed for younger, shorter legs. There’s a ten point list of things that shouldn’t be done on the bus, stuck above the drivers head. The clock is either fast or slow or just a little confused, ticking away at ten-past-three at ten o’clock in the morning. If ever there was a good example of reuse rather than recycle, this bus is it. I have a sneaky suspicion that I was at school in the same year that this trusty Hino took its maiden trip. Off we set, to get some schooling in the dark arts of waste disposal.

The tour is a two-hour round trip from Hastings District Council building. It’s the first of two free tours run by HDC and the Environment Centre to visit the Omarunui landfill. Cloe and Sam from the HDC waste minimisation department are our guides.

Our group of about thirty is fairly diverse considering that school and work commitments prevent many attending. The back seat cohort is preschoolers who readily embrace the bus trip’s singing duties: “2,3,4 The wheels on the bus.” Further forward there’s a few retired couples, EIT staff and students, a couple of family groups, and a few singles.

Omarunui Landfill is a 188 hectare site. It’s a stand-alone, user-pays, council-owned enterprise. We are signed-in at the entrance and Landfill-Phil hops aboard to talk detritus. State-of-the-art detritus too. Not just any old rubbish! Phil is a garbage geek in Hi-Viz clothing. His trash talk enthrals us. What Phil doesn’t know about Landfill isn’t worth knowing. Ninety thousand tonnes of waste enter this site every year. Picture 80 truck loads every day rolling in and out. 

My interest in waste disposal and waste generation, is at a level that makes me excited. I’ve read about the fake recycling where by we ship our plastics to another country and pay them to make it their problem. I’ve done my share of buying over-packaged, unnecessary plastic items. Like the knife that’s packaged in such a way that a knife is required to set the new knife free. My amateur conclusion to the waste question is Why not bury it? Let’s do what the cats do! Take care of our own waste. The landfill is close-by, well managed, and well monitored. 

As we drive up the hill (the hill that we helped build) Phil describes the processes involved in dealing with today’s waste, managing yesterday’s waste, and planning for tomorrow’s waste. It’s abundantly clear that our rubbish is in good hands. The site is neat and tidy! The rolling hills of grassed-over redundant by-product have the air of a golf links. Even the active areas where the trucks are dumping and compactors are squashing are tidy. We look down, through the mesh of the litter-catching fence, from the grassy knoll, a 50-metre deep in-fill, onto the organised scene below and are impressed. Attention to detail and science is evident. There’s quarrying of clay for lining, which is followed by multiple impervious, then absorbent layers. Pipes to capture the liquid (leachate), pipes to capture the gas. 

This is an 80-year project. It’s a facility that allows us to consume whatever we want in whatever quantity we like and, for a minimal cost, our waste is taken away and buried. Our collective laziness and materialism is a weighty issue, literally. We do a bad job in separating the trash. Half of the landfill’s intake is either compostable or recyclable. The compostable material accounts for all of the methane and leachate.

Once we’ve been shown the input we hop back on the bus and travel over the rolling hills (the rubbish slumps and settles, reshaping the hills) to the output area. The methane fired power engine generates enough electricity to power one thousand houses. The leachate is captured, contained and recycled through sprinklers. Round and round it goes. Again, the output end is very tidy. These guys know what they’re doing.

Enlightened and full of confidence in our waste management system the chat on the bus is of what we currently do and what we can do as individuals to minimise waste. The key point is that over 50% of everything sent to landfill could be composted or recycled. The multi-million dollar facility could be operational for an extra 40 years if we just took the time to separate our waste. I’m guilty at times of taking the easy route. The wheelie bin is a heaven for anything and everything and if I don’t make eye-contact with the guy that picks it up I can quickly get over my little guilt trip. Post-tour I have renewed enthusiasm for my own waste management. It’s time to make a plan. Time to make a commitment. 

The tour is exactly the right duration. It’s an eloquent delivery of facts and of ideas for the future, delivered by a knowledgeable and passionate team. The scale of the operation is staggering. We are wasteful but if we could be bothered we could help out Landfill Phil and the gang. Use less and compost more is the way. Bokashi is the new black. Let’s round-up those worms and farm them! Appropriately it’s “Tūtira mai ngā iwi” from the back seats on the way home. Surely together we can cut down Phil’s burden? “Tātou tātou e”.

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