28 Feb 2022

Environment Ministry considers national database to register old landfill sites

5:28 pm on 28 February 2022

The Ministry for the Environment is considering creating a national database and fund to protect vulnerable old landfill sites.

Volunteers pick up rubbish where a disused Fox River landfill spilled litter on the West Coast.

Volunteers pick up rubbish after a disused landfill on the banks of the Fox River on the West Coast became exposed during flooding in 2019. Photo: RNZ / Katie Todd

Sites are currently monitored by local and regional councils, however, until recently, climate change risks were not measured.

This has led to the exposure of sites, like the 2019 Fox River disaster, which saw rubbish strewn down the riverbed after severe flooding.

Earlier this month, the historic Reefton landfill was also washed out during heavy rain, when the Inangahua River swept away the rock wall around it.

Ministry for the Environment director of policy and regulation Glenn Wigley said more central support is being looked at.

"At the moment there isn't a specific fund that's available to assist with vulnerable landfills.

"We do consider requests for funding on a case by case basis. For example, with the Fox River landfill, [the ministry] did provide some funding assistance to help clean up the collection of rubbish in the waterway," he said.

While there was funding given, it only came once the disaster had happened, instead of proactively to prevent the disaster.

There is an existing fund set up for remediating contaminated sites before disaster strikes, although it does not accept applications for old landfills.

"The ministry is aware of the challenges that exist for local government and there is an existing sites Contaminated Land Remediation Fund but that wasn't designed for the scale or magnitude of what's occurring currently," Wigley explained.

But the ministry is already working with local and regional councils to create a uniform way of monitoring old sites, he said.

"The types of things that [the system] works through are the size of the landfill, the design of it, what's in there, its location, [and] its vulnerability to extreme weather events or sea level rise.

"A national adaptation plan will be released in August, which will define the government's objectives for adapting to climate change," Wigley said.

The Ministry for the Environment is considering a number of options and hopes to make decisions on a national database and fund by the end of next year.

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