23 May 2023

Bromley residents say they're fed up with compost stench: 'It's torture, it's driving me crazy'

10:33 am on 23 May 2023
Living Earth

Photo: RNZ / Nate McKinnon

Fed-up Bromley residents say they are being tortured by a worsening stench from Christchurch's compost plant, which is aggravating asthma and ruining their quality of life.

Councillors have agreed to move the council-owned Living Earth organics processing plant, and will next month consider a report outlining options for kerbside green waste while staff work to find a new site.

But locals have warned they are at breaking point and cannot put up with the sickening smell under a council timeline of up to five years.

Bromley woman Vickie Walker said the overpowering "vomit-like silage stench" left her feeling sick to the stomach, caused headaches and coughing and stopped her from spending time outside.

"It's torture, it's driving me crazy," she said.

"I just can't believe that we have to live like this on this side of town. It's bloody inhumane."

Vickie Walker

Bromley woman Vickie Walker says the overpowering "vomit-like silage stench" leaves her feeling sick to the stomach. Photo: RNZ / Nate McKinnon

Walker said she had been treated for pneumonia and a lung infection, and had been diagnosed with a wheeze since the start of the year, while other family members in Bromley were suffering from asthma.

"With composting, they tell you that you need to wear a mask because there's stuff in there that's not good for you," she said.

The plant has been the subject of many complaints since it opened in 2009, although the stink differs from the stench from the burnt-out wastewater treatment plant in the same suburb.

Walker's neighbour Katinka Visser said the compost smell had worsened since the start of the year, despite council assurances offensive odours were being managed.

She said the stench from food and garden waste in the city's green wheelie bins ranged from a "horrible musty, mouldy smell" to a chemical spray-type odour that made her sneeze and gave her a sore throat.

"The stuff that goes in there is really putrid, slimy, yucky, mucky stuff," she said.

"It's stuff in the fridge that we're not going to eat, it's virtually crawling out of the fridge before it goes into the bin, so it's rotten, really rotten. We shouldn't have to live like this."

Living Earth

Photo: RNZ / Nate McKinnon

Bromley residents have repeatedly pleaded for the plant to be closed immediately, but a council report found that could cost ratepayers $41 million over five years and lead to 55,000 tonnes of organic waste being dumped at Kate Valley landfill in North Canterbury annually.

The council has instead opted to move the plant and short-listed six replacement sites.

In the meantime, Living Earth was funding work to mitigate any potential sources of odour, the council said. The measures included hiring an additional screen to separate finer compost from sticks and tailings, removing surplus tailings from the site and increasing the number of days green waste was held in tunnels from 14 to 22 days to give the compost more time to mature.

The council said refurbishment of the main biofilter was expected to be complete by the start of June.

A monitoring report for the council by independent environmental experts Pattle Delamore Partners showed the odour was not offensive or objectionable over two weeks in March.

Vickie Walker said the smell was still plaguing the suburb and Bromley ratepayers felt as if they were being treated like second-class citizens.

"It's BS, to put it politely. It's lip service, rinse and repeat. Every bloody meeting we go to it's same old same old," she said.

"We pay for air quality in our rates, I don't bloody well get it, neither does anyone around here. We're actually paying these people to do this to us. We want fresh air, we want to be looked after."

Abatement notice

Under Living Earth's resource consent, offensive or objectionable odour should not go beyond the plant's boundary in Metro Place.

Since 2021, thousands of tonnes of compost has been spread on paddocks surrounding the nearby wastewater plant to help the growth of native plants and trees.

The regulator, Environment Canterbury (ECan), has issued the council 15 infringement notices relating to odour breaches since the start of the year, with fines totalling $7000.

Operator Waste Management was fined a further $4000.

In January 2021, ECan served the city council an abatement notice ordering it to cease the "discharge of offensive and objectionable odour".

Despite recent enforcement action, Visser said many people had given up reporting bad odours through the Smelt-It app because they believed ECan had failed to do its job over previous years.

"ECan is ECan't isn't it? They don't even hear us anymore, they just don't get it at all. I think we as New Zealanders are just too nice. If this happened in another country, something would be done about it instantly,

"I've told my neighbours several times that I'm going to go down on my mobility scooter and chain myself to the fence, but that's only stopping the trucks coming or going and spreading that stinky, horrible-smelling compost they can't sell."

Bromley resident Michael Williams said he had lost confidence in the city council's ability to abide by the conditions of the plant's resource consent.

"I'm disgusted that this whole process has been allowed to drag on for so long, that the people of Bromley have basically been oppressed by this odour," he said.

"I don't see why the residents of Bromley should be treated as second-class citizens. It's not right. It's a moral and social injustice and everyone needs to be doing far better."

Linwood councillor Yani Johanson said he was yet to be briefed on next month's report but it was clear more should be done to manage compost odours following repeated resource consent breaches.

"It's vile, it's revolting, you do want to throw up when you drive past it at times," he said.

"It's not fair for the local community to have to suffer in terms of health, quality of life and well-being simply because that's the more affordable option for the rest of the city."

Johanson said Resource Management Act reform was required to better manage dust and odours so problem industries bore greater responsibility for breaches, along with tougher penalties.

"The Resource Management Act is totally inadequate to address things like air discharge, odour control. The tools that we have in terms of regulation are not working. The burden is falling on the community to prove that the adverse effects are happening - that is absolutely the wrong way around."

ECan spokesperson Nathan Dougherty said the regional council was seeking legal advice to determine whether it could review the plant's resource consent.

He said ECan had maintained an intense level of odour monitoring over the last few years and appreciated the frustration of community members.

"The evidence of this is the issuing of the abatement notice following a lack of progress by the consent-holder to achieve compliance.

"In the last year we have not seen continuing progress to minimise odour discharges, non-compliance has been substantiated and enforcement action has been taken in the form of infringement notices being issued."

Christchurch City Council waste management head Lynette Ellis said Pattle Delamore Partners continued to monitor odour from the compost plant.

"The well-being of the Bromley community is important to us and we're constantly reviewing the operations on site and will continue to make any necessary changes, as required, to ensure that odour is not offensive and objectionable."

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs