An old New Zealand school incinerator poisons students as they play.
On 14 July 2005, Auckland International Airport Limited (AIAL) announced that they would be replacing the incinerator with a more environmentally friendly option. The General Manager stated, "The facility will utilise the latest steam sterilisation technology, which produces zero harmful emissions to the atmosphere."
The new steam sterilisation facility was commissioned in May 2006.
Greenpeace was delighted that Auckland Airport made this move and acknowledges that they have made a sound decision for the future. It was a positive step for both people and the environment and showed that the company had listened to the views of Greenpeace and the local community.
Greenpeace thanks everyone who either attended the AGM to vote in favour of the resolution or who gave us their proxy vote, and for the support from the local community, in particular Nga Manga o Mangare, the community group network of over 50 South Auckland groups.
What was the problem?
The airport generates quarantine waste, which the company is obliged to treat under the Biosecurity Act and its aerodrome licence. Quarantine waste was being disposed of by incineration. There had also been a proposal to expand the incinerator and a possible intention to burn industrial hazardous waste in the incinerator.
Incineration, through discharges to the air and waste ash, is known to be a major contributor of dioxin into the environment around the world.
Dioxin is one of the most toxic chemicals known to science, causing cancer, birth defects, diabetes and interference with hormone and immune systems. There is no safe level of dioxin. In recognition of the need to protect public health and the environment against the threat of dioxin, the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants aims to eliminate dioxin. New Zealand is a signatory to this Convention and, as such, is legally obligated to pursue the Convention's ultimate goal of eliminating dioxin. New Zealand will achieve this goal only by abolishing sources of dioxin, such as the old AIAL incinerator.
In addition to being dioxin sources, incinerators also generate and/or release hundreds if not thousands of other pollutants, many of which are not yet identified and have unknown consequences. As more of these pollutants are identified and their effects determined, they too will come under national and international regulations so that owner/operators of incinerators, such as the old AIAL incinerator, will be forced to invest in increasingly costly pollution control equipment as well as more stringent treatment of ash and other residues.
The AIAL incinerator was poisoning the South Auckland community and environment, and had been breaching its resource consent conditions (under the Resource Management Act) on dioxin release. Dioxin had been measured in the incinerator's stack gases at over 17 times the legally permitted levels.
Dioxin formation can be avoided and regulatory requirements for the treatment of quarantine waste can be met by cleaner treatment technologies such as steam sterilisation. Two non-incineration treatment facilities for quarantine and medical waste had already been established in Wellington and Auckland.
Steam sterilisation is regarded as a clean, viable and cost-effective alternative to incineration that does not generate dioxins. A New Zealand government report states: "Total installed costs for autoclave [steam steriliser] systems are less or equal to those of new waste incinerators. Operating costs for autoclave systems are also likely to be similar to those for incinerators. (i)"
The company is already committed through its values statement (ii) to "Operating in a manner that minimises impact on our local community and physical environs", and within the commitments statement (iii), to "Engaging in sound practices respecting others and accepting responsibility for our behaviours."
What did Greenpeace do to achieve this great victory?
Greenpeace campaigns don't always end up in inflatable boats or with activists locked on to smokestacks. We took the Auckland International Airport Ltd (AIAL) incineration campaign to the boardroom challenging AIAL to live up to its vision through a shareholder resolution at their 2002 AGM.
Greenpeace purchased the minimum number of shares to allow it to take the resolution forward. Greenpeace board chair Gordon Duncan and campaigner Sue Connor presented the argument for a clean alternative to a packed AGM in Auckland. Residents of the Mangere community, located downwind of the incinerator, also attended to convey their concerns.
The resolution was not formally passed, however there was a lot of support for its spirit. AIAL was left in no doubt that this was an important issue for many individual and corporate shareholders.
AIAL agreed to fulfil the demand of Manukau City Council, the third largest shareholder, that the company urgently investigate alternative ways of treating their waste.
- Greenpeace wrote a comprehensive report outlining how AIAL can feasibly phase out incineration and adopt steam sterilisation technology as an alternative way of treating quarantine waste generated by the airport business. Incinerator Solution Report, 2002
- Through a resolution at the 2002 AGM, we urged the company to make a commitment to cease incineration of all quarantine waste within 12 months. Resolution to the AGM, 2002
Victory was achieved when Auckland International Airport Limited saw the future - and the future was clean stream sterilisation, not dirty polluting incineration.
(i) The Cost-Effectiveness of Reductions in Dioxin Emissions to Air from Selected Sources Economic Analysis for Section 32 of the Resource Management Act - A report prepared for the Ministry for the Environment, August 2001. (ii) AIAL annual report Vision statement. (iii) ibid.