The Environment Select Committee will soon hear its last submission on the topic it has been investigating for several months – how to deal with the three million tonnes of sector waste dumped in landfills annually.

About half of this is thought to be useable or recyclable.

Fletcher Building Residential and Development chief executive Steve Evans said as the country embarked on a massive bid to address the housing shortage, change was more than just a nice-to-have.

“I’ve been in this industry for a long time and regulations change behaviour. So you ask people to do things voluntarily and you will, of course, get those that are socially-minded or environmentally-minded, that will do it.

“But for the others that aren’t that way, regulation changes behaviour because carrots don’t necessarily always work.”

In Fletcher’s submission to the select committee the company suggested a raft of mandates.

“Mandate [that] waste minimisation plans are submitted as part of the consenting process; mandate a requirement to separate at source the key materials for separate collection, which will drive higher diversion rates; mandate the reintroduction of demolition consents.”

The list goes on.

Evans said from the design and consent phase all the way through to end-of-life for a building product, the Government should set standards.

“They need to be involved and it’s not just about incentives, in some cases it’s penalties.

“The good thing that you have within government is you have a focus on climate change and clearly [this] is a climate change issue.”

The role of government

The Government’s role is two-headed. It sets the rules, but it’s also a player.

Kāinga Ora is New Zealand’s largest residential developer and landlord representing 7 percent of residential construction activity currently underway in New Zealand

The department is currently managing the largest urban redevelopment and residential investment programme seen in decades, with $30 billion to be invested over the next 20 years and the construction of some 20,000 houses.

Construction and innovation general manager Patrick Dougherty said as a major client and procurer of services, it had a “significant role to play” in driving change.

“So what we think we need to do is to help provide some leadership in this way … we have touch points across the industry when it comes to build partners, demolition and deconstruction partners as well as consultants.

“So by using that scale, we want to bring about system transformation.”

In the department’s submission it noted strong opportunity for the Government to regulate by bringing in mandatory “take-back” schemes or product stewardship requirements, requirements for pre-fabrication to limit on-site waste, and specifying products that need to be recycled which in turn would create a market for the materials, rather than just ending up in a skip.

It also suggested legislation similar to workplace health and safety requirements, but to do with waste management.

Deconstruction vs Demolition

“A lot of our redevelopment activity has been about removing existing houses and replacing them with a greater density so we use the land more efficiently. That work used to be a default of demolition. Now we prioritise house relocation and deconstruction,” Dougherty said.

“We’ve got a national target to relocate 7 percent of the public houses that we want to remove some from sites.”

Kāinga Ora has set itself another target to divert 80 percent of uncontaminated waste away from landfill at its Northland and Auckland sites, and 60 percent for the rest of its sites.

This financial year Kāinga Ora has reused or recycled approximately 17,506 tonnes of waste, equating to approximately 87 percent of all uncontaminated waste cleared from Auckland development sites and has relocated 46 state houses – about 10 percent of all cleared to make way for new developments.

“We’re developing a specific construction waste minimisation program for our new builds and also our refurbishment program.”

He said this work included more off-site manufacturing as well as investigating the reuse of materials, which he hoped the Government would look at.

“The NZ Building Code is the main constraint in relation to allowing re-use material into construction. This is problematic because it is reducing a potential market for re-use material in New Zealand, because it results in limited demand,” the Kāinga Ora submission said.

Fletchers agreed, writing into its submission, “the Building Code and waste regulations will also need to permit/regulate/incentivise the use of new recycled and reused materials”.

Auckland Council senior waste planning advisor Mark Roberts agreed the Building Code needed to change.

“This will stimulate demand for deconstruction.”

He also wanted more done with regard to a product’s end of life.

“We are seeing a proliferation of composite building materials that have no accompanying product stewardship and poor end-of-life outcomes. We are currently creating a waste crisis that will be revealed in 80 to 100 years’ time.

“Introducing end-of-life considerations within MBIE’s CodeMark certification will provide a substantial benefit to waste outcomes.”

Work underway

Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment spokesperson Antonia Reid said a range of work was underway to encourage the reduction of waste, including investigating the barriers to reusing and recycling building materials and expanding the waste infrastructure network.

“MBIE is also progressing changes which would require reporting and measurement of new buildings’ whole-of-life embodied carbon emissions – from manufacturing building materials to disposing of them at the end of a building’s life.

“We expect this focus on embodied carbon reduction will encourage greater repair and retrofit of existing buildings, smarter building design to help minimise emissions and waste within new construction, and more deconstruction of buildings at the end of their lives if they cannot be made fit for purpose.”

Building and Construction Minister Megan Woods said the Government was working to reduce waste through actions in the Emissions Reduction Plan.

“Including a potential amendment to the Building Act that would increase usage of, and set requirements around, waste minimisation plans in the building and construction sector.

“Reducing the construction sector’s waste is also an opportunity to support supply chain resilience and reduce costs to consumers, which can only be a good thing,” she said.

The select committee will now prepare a report to the House with its findings and recommendations.

Emma Hatton is a business reporter based in Wellington.

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