The vision I have is a combination of reducing waste sources that are energy intensive or create significant carbon emissions, looking at environmentally sound alternative materials and applying some common sense law changes. I have opined and given these as examples in the past, but I have not tried to present an outline of how New Zealand might tackle the unsustainable manner in which we are living – until now. I write this to briefly examine some steps that New Zealand could be taking and the basis for those steps.
We use a wide range of minerals that appear on the Periodic Table of the Elements in manufacturing goods. Some are highly toxic and cannot be easily recycled or are being phased out. Others like aluminium however are growing considerably in both use and the amount being wasted. Aluminium stands out because it is hugely energy intensive to create one unit of it in a smelter – New Zealand’s Tiwai Point smelter for example has most of the output from Manapouri hydroelectric power station being directed to it. This is notable because recycling aluminium only requires a fraction of the power needed to manufacture a unit of it.
How much work would it take to re-establish a nation wide aluminium recycling programme at community level with drop off depots?
Many of the elements used in electronics and other everyday items are mined from countries that are quite politically unstable and have little regard for environmental law. As a result large tracts of forest are being wiped out with no rehabilitation, destroying vast tracts of the ecosystem and the habitats of flora and fauna. This destruction is releasing vast amounts of carbon based gas back into the atmosphere, whilst also affecting the native lands of indigenous peoples. Yet we wonder why there is conflict.
This is where e-waste recycling, known in the e-waste world as urban mining, has the potential to become very important. My research last year for Open Polytechnic of New Zealand found that 60 of the 118 elements of the Periodic Table were in use in electronic waste. 90,000 tons of e-waste is generated in New Zealand per annum, of which about 89,000 tons is not recycled. Yet the amount of copper, gold, silver and palladium that could be recovered is in commercial quantities and would go some way towards reducing the need for another ecology destroying mine – in New Zealand alone it is estimated that 600 kilogrammes of gold and 600 tons of copper could be recovered each year.
At the moment I am compiling responses from across New Zealand of city, district and regional councils to a set of questions I have e-mailed to them. When it is complete I will send the compiled document to the Minister for Environment to try to hasten a policy announcement on e-waste.
It is one of the most constructive materials ever conceived by man, but also one of the most damaging in terms of carbon based gas emissions. In 2015 about 4.20 billion tons of concrete was manufactured, compared with about 1.00 billion tons in 1960. Carbon dioxide emissions per annum from concrete manufacture make up about 8% of total emissions. New Zealand’s contribution is fairly minor (0.6 million tons of carbon dioxide, compared to about 702 million tons from China). Roughly half of the carbon dioxide emissions in the manufacture of concrete come from the chemical conversion of limestone to calcium oxide – emissions that will be impossible to avoid as long as we continue relying on calcinating limestone.
Hemp concrete is a material that has been tested by various researchers and has been found by the British Department of Business Innovation and Skills to actually store carbon. I am not sure what work has been done with hemp concrete in New Zealand, and it might not have a major impact on our overall carbon emissions, but here exists scope for New Zealand researchers to investigate further.
A few weeks ago I mentioned a suggestion that people will have to stop flying, in order to reduce the emissions caused by large scale consumption by airlines of aviation fuel. At the time I mentioned that an Air New Zealand study had been undertaken to see how planes could handle a biofuel blend. In 2009 a test flight was done. It was successful and the Boeing 747-400 aircraft used managed to complete all tests without a problem. In 2016, with no obvious attempt by the Government to establish a biofuel programme or support industry in doing so, Air New Zealand and Virgin Australia decided to collaborate on a biofuel project, to examine whether or not biofuel can be produced locally, thereby lowering production costs whilst also creating jobs and reducing carbon emissions.
Biofuel is, as I have long suspected, been a potential alternative various fossil fuels. This now appears to include to the Jet-A1 fuel. The challenge will be finding out whether the jatropha seeds experiment of 2009 can be made successful or an alternative found.