Member Profile

Waste Management NZ

December, 2021

By: Waste Management NZ

Waste Management NZ are at the forefront of sustainably, and are focused on delivering value for customers, the community, and the environment by driving carbon minimisation and the circular economy forward in Aotearoa, New Zealand. They have developed a fleet of electric vehicles and energy producing landfills. In this interview with Evan Maehl, Managing Director of Waste Management NZ, we learn more about Waste Management’s commitment to NZ Inc.

Evan Maehl, Managing Director of Waste Management NZ

1) Could you tell us about your background and how you began working with Waste Management NZ?

An accountant by training, I started my career at P&O Containers while on my OE in the UK. When I returned to New Zealand, stints at South Auckland Health and DB Group followed. From there I entered the New Zealand wine industry and worked at the well know companies Corbans Wines, Montana Wines and Villa Maria Estate. During this time, the profile and export sales of the New Zealand wine industry grew enormously, it was a challenging and exciting time. The opportunity to become CFO at Waste Management was attractive due to the complexity of the industry and the company’s strong focus on the environment. After over eight years in that role, I was privileged to take on the role of Managing Director in January 2021. Luckily, I am still involved in the wine industry, I have just moved to the end of the supply chain and am picking up the empty wine bottles from the side of the road.

2) How have you seen the industry change?

We have come a long way from 3,000 B.C, when the first recorded landfill was developed in Knossos, Crete (modern-day Greece), where large holes were dug into the earth to dump their rubbish. In the 1970s, the industry in New Zealand was very fragmented, with many small regional operators. Through rapid consolidation during the 1980s and 1990s, some large national and regional operators began emerging, with Waste Management NZ being the largest.

The introduction of the Resource Management Act in 1991 lifted the bar for the industry to focus on the sustainable management of natural and physical resources such as land, air and water. As a result, the tips and dumps of the past started to get replaced with modern engineered landfills with good biogas capture, dramatically improving the environment and carbon emissions.

The theme of sustainability continues today, with the industry focusing on minimising the waste getting into the waste supply chain, recovering what we can from the waste supply chain (if it makes sense from a net carbon emission perspective) and the residual waste going to a modern engineered landfill with good biogas capture. This supports a circular economy where resources are kept in use as long as possible to reduce carbon emissions.

3) How important is sustainability to Waste Management NZ?

Waste Management views everything through a sustainability lens. Climate change is the biggest environmental challenge facing the world, and the team is very aware of the responsibility we have to provide responsible waste and recycling solutions to New Zealanders.

We launched our sustainability strategy For Future Generations in 2018, and shortly after became the first waste company in New Zealand to measure our greenhouse gas emissions and create a carbon footprint reduction plan to reduce our impact on climate change through the Toitū carbonreduce programme.

Most of our greenhouse gas emissions come from the waste collected from communities and disposed at landfills. To counter this, we capture and convert more than 90% of landfill biogas to electricity, powering the equivalent of 24,000 homes in 2020. Our Redvale Landfill & Energy Park, for example, is Auckland’s largest renewable energy generator. Without proper management in a modern, engineered landfill, decomposing waste would release greenhouse gas directly into the atmosphere.

In 2018, we opened New Zealand’s largest tyre recycling plant in Wiri, Auckland, where each year we shred over a million end-of-life tyres for converting into fuel – reducing emissions at plants previously burning greenhouse gas emission-intensive fuels such as coal.

We are also New Zealand’s largest composter, turning over 120,000 tonnes of food and garden waste into compost each year at our Living Earth facilities.

4) Can you tell us more about the electric vehicle programme?

We were the first to introduce 100% plug-in electric trucks into our waste collection fleet in New Zealand in 2017 and have opened a purpose-built facility to assemble more EV trucks. We currently have 24 electric trucks, as well as almost 100 electric cars and light vehicles in our fleet. We will keep increasing this number and, with a total fleet of over 850 trucks, expect to make a significant emissions reduction impact.

From the data we have collected, one electric truck saves about 125 litres of diesel per day. Across our fleet, it will be close to 100,000 litres of diesel saved every day.

5) Can you tell us more about energy producing landfills?

We’re hugely proud of our modern engineered landfills, which are award winning and among the best in the world.

We also continue to invest heavily in recycling technology and support efforts to reduce, reuse and recycle. However, not all materials can be recycled, and some materials can only be recycled a limited number of times after which they need to be disposed of safely.

Whatever cannot be recycled or recovered is taken to one of our landfills, where we use the best technology to safely capture 100% of the leachate (liquid from the waste) and over 90% of the biogas that comes from the waste at our facilities. We convert that biogas into electricity to feed back into the national grid to power our trucks and facilities.

It is important to recognise that class one landfills make up 1.4% of New Zealand’s total greenhouse gas emissions and they have reduced their actual emissions by 47.9% since 2005 (almost double the reduction of the next best performing sub sector). Taking out the good performance from the class one landfills, the rest of New Zealand’s emissions have actually increased by 1.1% over the same time period. Much greater focus must go on those sectors and their plans to reduce carbon emissions.

Watch our video on how a modern landfill protects the environment HERE. 

6) How do your staff feel about these initiatives?

We have a team of 1700, and they care deeply about what they do. We all feel a weight of responsibility to protect Aotearoa for future generations. Because our team understands the investment we make into the very best waste solutions, it can cut deeply when people don’t understand what we do.

7) What do you have planned for the future in terms of sustainability?

This year we’ve released our Circular Strategy, which defines our purpose as a company: Power the circular economy for future generations of Aotearoa New Zealand.

To do this we are investing heavily into our people and innovation and playing a leadership role in shaping the direction for carbon minimisation and the circular economy.

We firmly believe that climate change is the most dangerous threat to New Zealand and humanity. Everything we do is about lowering carbon emissions. To this end we conduct monthly site-based carbon reporting, and each division / branch has its own carbon budget.

We’ll continue to invest in our landfills and recycling technology, always with a view of the most carbon efficient way to deal with waste.

8) How do we stack up against the rest of the world in this space?

Aotearoa’s waste is steadily increasing, and the reality is New Zealand has a deeply entrenched culture of throw-away consumerism. Much of our economy is built on this and it needs to change.

The Government must lead the way to drive behaviour change that will avoid the creation of waste in the first place.

While that behavioural shift happens, we will continue to innovate and provide world-leading solutions for waste.

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