Trash talk for climateRead Now
Tom comes into the kitchen and casually drops a newspaper into the rubbish bin.
Tom: “Not much in the news yesterday. Has today’s paper arrived?”
Marg: “I haven’t checked the box. But wait a minute; did you just drop a newspaper into the rubbish? We are meant to recycle newspaper, you know.”
Tom: “It all goes to the same place anyway. What’s the use?”
Marg: “No it doesn’t. Last I read, nearly all our recycling actually goes to a recycling plant and gets recycled. Here, let’s ask Google. She’ll know.”
Tom: “Hey, when do we get to change back to the male voice? I’m feeling ganged up on lately.”
Marg: “I thought you said she sounded sexy. How about changing for your birthday?”
Tom: “OK, fair enough. Now, what were we talking about?”
Marg: “HEY GOOGLE, HOW MUCH OF OUR RECYCLING IS ACTUALLY RECYCLED?”
Google Assistant: “According to the Marlborough District Council’s website, 100% of paper collected is recycled principally into packaging products both here in New Zealand and overseas. In the financial year 2020-2021, 75% was recycled domestically and the rest overseas. The only paper that can’t be recycled is wet paper, since it leads to an inferior recycled product.”
Tom: “Well, that’s interesting. I wonder how much the other things we send to recycling actually get recycled.”
Google: “100% of cardboard, plastic, metal cans and glass are recycled, mostly here in New Zealand. In 2020-2021 65% of plastic was still sent offshore for recycling.”
Tom: “Well, Marg, I stand corrected. You were right…” (and under his breath, “this time”.)
Marg: “You should really know better, Tom. Paper, cardboard, wood and other organic material should not go to landfill. It breaks down and creates methane that leaks out of the landfills and warms the planet.”
Tom: “Wait a minute, though. Wasn’t I reading something about this a few weeks ago? Doesn’t the landfill have a way to deal with the methane?”
Google: “The Bluegums landfill has an extensive methane capture and destruction system, with underground pipes and surface wells that pump landfill gas to the surface and burn it to turn the methane into carbon dioxide. The system is under evaluation right now to see if there is enough methane to power a small electricity generation plant.”
Tom: “Turning it into CO2? Isn’t CO2 a greenhouse gas too... the main one warming the planet?”
Google: “Yes, but methane has approximately 80 times the warming potential of carbon dioxide over a 20 year period. CO2 is the lesser of two bad gas emissions, so to speak.”
Tom: “OK, it guess it is better to burn it. Well, there you go. Problem solved.”
Google: “Not quite. According to a recent inventory of the Marlborough District Council’s greenhouse gas emissions, done by consultancy Carbon EES, the Bluegums landfill is modelled to capture only 51% of the methane generated by organic material buried in the landfill. The landfill accounts for around 75% of the Council’s emissions. The Council’s 2019-2020 total emissions were 45,442 tonnes CO2 equivalent. The Council is required to purchase and surrender emissions credits for its operations, including the escaped landfill methane.”
Tom: “Wow, 45 thousand odd tonnes! That seems like a big number. So, the Council has to buy carbon credits for those emissions? What’s the price of those credits these days?”
Google: “According to Carbon News, the spot market price for a New Zealand carbon credit on the secondary market as of 18 February 2022 was $85.00 per tonne CO2.”
Tom: “Crikey! Those are big numbers! I don’t even want to know how much our emission are costing the council!
Google: “I have no information on how much the Council spends on carbon credits. The Council recovers the cost of the emissions credits through the levy on waste disposal. In other words, you pay for it.”
Marg: “OK, Tom. Now you see why it is important to recycle that newspaper?”
Tom: “Right again, darling… (and under his breath, “I hope this doesn’t get to be a habit.”)
Google: “According to my statistics on your conversations over the last 12 months, Marg has been right 83.54 percent of the time. Does that count as a habit?”
Tom: “GOOGLE, YOU NEED TO STOP LISTENING IN ON OUR CONVERSATIONS!”
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These are a collection of opinion articles principally written by CKM member Tom Powell for the Marlborough Express. Tom is a retired geologist who came to New Zealand in 2004 to work in the geothermal industry on the North Island, is a New Zealand citizen and now lives in Blenheim. Some articles have been written by other CKM members, and their names appear with those articles.