Green Credentials, Or Green Wash?

New Zealand’s ‘Green’ Credentials aren’t quite as good as they should be for a country with such a low population, much of NZ’s green reputation is little more than greenwashing used to sell produce and tourism.

Despite John Key’s flannelling on the recent BBC Hardtalk interview, New Zealand is anything but 100% pure and there is plenty of factual evidence that the country is unable live up to the image it has generated for itself.

We must get real about cleaning up our rivers and lakes, because the world is beginning to realise that we aren’t living up to our clean green image.”  quote from Dr Russell Norman, Green Party.

Dr Norman was responding to John Key’s interview, during which the  host Stephen Sackur commented that New Zealand is clearly not 100% Pure and cited that half of New Zealand lakes and 90% of our lowland rivers are classed as polluted. Much of that pollution comes from intensive dairying practices, and some from the petrochemical industry.

New Zealand’s green reputation is based mostly on the color of its landscape, not its environmental credentials.

There is pollution from oil drilling and fracking waste that is used to fertilize dairy pasture in the Taranaki. The Green party says milk from the area could be unsafe and want it tested. 12 farms could be affected and the region has 30 more sites where the waste is distributed in “mix-bury-cover”. 400 wells have been drilled in Taranaki in the last 20 years, “many of which are on or immediately next to dairy or beef farms.”

The controversial method of “land farming” involves spreading mud and other waste into poor quality soil, which is then returned to pasture.  Green MP Gareth Hughes said a 2005 report showed cows were grazing on a dump farm with elevated levels of hydrocarbons, but almost a decade had passed without a testing regime for petroleum toxins. source and source

There is far too much reliance on mining, use of fossil fuels and burning of wood in New Zealand, this causes serious pollution of the air and land. In addition to that some processes have been secretly going on for decades with very little controls or monitoring. For example, fracking.

Fracking was undertaken 72 times over 22 years in Taranaki with no monitoring of the type or volume of chemicals used, according to information provided to the Sunday Star-Times.

Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, involves injecting a mixture of water, sand and chemicals under high pressure into rock masses thousands of metres below the earth to help release oil and gas. From 1989 until August 2011 the Taranaki Regional Council (TRC) did not require resource consent for fracking. Companies discharging “fracking fluid” into the earth were not required to submit records of the type and amounts of chemicals used.

The Green Party said this showed local and central government “dropping the ball” in overseeing the potential effects of fracking on New Zealand. “How can the council be monitoring the environmental effects of the chemicals if they don’t have records of what chemicals were used?”… more here

In April 2011 a copy of the government’s draft energy strategy: Developing Our Energy Potential was released ‘mistakenly’ into the public domain. It quickly became evident that the present National government was placing far too much emphasis on the mining of fossil fuels in New Zealand.

The Green Party called the strategy which promoted coal and oil exploration, 19th century and said it put ‘petroleum and mineral fuel reserves (essentially oil, gas and coal) ahead of investing in renewable power sources and new technologies.

“…This strategy demonstrates how backwards-looking this Government is on energy. They clearly do not have a logical, coherent plan,” said Greens energy spokesman Kennedy Graham.

“On one of the first pages of the document, the strategy acknowledges that oil prices and the cost of greenhouse gases will rise. But instead of developing a plan to reduce our reliance on these unsustainable energy sources, it goes on to prioritise fossil fuels like offshore oil drilling and lignite – the dirtiest coal.

“It’s a short-sighted economic strategy that will ultimately impoverish New Zealand, and will undermine international efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

“New Zealand’s prosperity in the future will depend on investment in clean, green technology and sustainable jobs, not opening our shores to foreign companies to exploit a 19th century resource.”…” read more, including what the public think about the report

Later the same month Environment Minister Nick Smith admitted tougher controls on the quality of rivers, lakes and streams recommended by the Land and Water Forum are “realistically several years away” He acknowledged that “better freshwater management is critical to our primary industries, our great Kiwi lifestyle, our tourism industry, to iwi, to our clean environment, and to the electricity sector”

Russel Norman, co-leader of the Green Party that the Minister had  “run out of excuses” for delaying rules to clean up rivers and lakes. Saying “Half of New Zealand’s waterways were unsafe for swimming and almost one-third of its lakes were unhealthy. We desperately need regulation that creates certainty and has teeth.” source

Contaminated Land

It’s thought that there are at least 20,000 contaminated sites in New Zealand including former gasworks, timber and agriculture sites. The location of most of them is kept from the public. We think the true number of sites is higher than this, see the quote below about 50,000 sites contaminated by sheep dips.

4000 potentially contaminated properties in the Canterbury and Tasman districts will not be revealed in a public register, despite a ruling by the Office of the Ombudsmen to do so. Tasman refused to release its list of 850 sites and ECan said it would release its list of 3400 potentially contaminated properties only if applicants paid a fee and signed a memorandum of understanding. source

“There’s a tension here between the public’s right to know and our need to manage the information in a sensitive way. Information about private land can have a significant commercial impact on that owner,” ECan director of monitoring and investigations Ken Taylor said.”

“Historical use of arsenic based pesticides in sheep-dips has resulted in an estimated 50,000 sites contaminated with arsenic and persistent organic pollutants such as dieldrin. Urbanisation of agricultural land has resulted in the belated discovery of arsenic-contaminated residential soils. As well, past pesticide practices in agriculture and horticulture employed arsenic-based compounds. Recent sampling of previously productive soils has uncovered high levels of arsenic in some soils.”

Soils associated with the production and use of Copper-Chromium-Arsenic (CCA) treated timber also exhibit elevated arsenic concentrations. Wood-waste and timber-treatment sites often contain arsenic hot spots that present a risk to groundwater. The extensive use of CCA-treated posts in agricultural and horticultural systems might lead to the long-term arsenic contamination of New Zealand’s productive soils…”  source

Hundreds of hectares of land are polluted with toxic chemicals left behind after years of intensive fruit growing, chemical use and/or manufacture (Agent Orange, wood preservatives, heavy metals etc) Over time, as the use of orchards declined, the land was often sold on for residential housing development. Many homeowners are unaware that their houses are built on contaminated land. Councils are very reluctant to release information as it will have a negative impact on land values and there could be massive bills for remediation work and difficulties in disposing of the waste materials.

Environment Canterbury (ECan) is investigating claims that drums filled with toxic chemicals are buried underneath Opuha Dam’s lake, near Fairlie. It was alleged some of the drums contained 245T, a dioxin-contaminated herbicide used to make Agent Orange. It seems these drums were dumped in 1994, and the practice of dumping chemicals was widespread at the time. source (thank you to our reader Moonlight)

New Zealand was one of the last countries in the world producing 245T when it was banned in 1987, and its country’s farmers were among the world’s biggest users.

Drums of toxic chemicals were recently discovered beneath a children’s playground in Marfell, the site of New Plymouth’s former city refuse dump. The chemicals were tetrachlorobenzene and trichlorophenol, both used in the manufacture of herbicides.

 22 March 2012

“Bottles of toxic chemicals have been found in an old waste heap hidden between the Pukekura Raceway and the Bowl of Brooklands.

The Taranaki Regional Council is investigating after plastic containers labelled as 2,4,5-T were discovered in the tip by a Womad visitor last weekend.

The herbicide gained notoriety as one of two main ingredients in Agent Orange, the controversial chemical used to defoliate jungles during the Vietnam War in the 1960s. The chemical was later linked to cancer and birth defects among people exposed to it…” more

Ivon Watkins Dow (now named Dow Agro Sciences)manufactured herbicides ’24D’ and ’245T’, used in equal part in the manufacture of the defoliant Agent Orange, at its Paritutu plant for use in the Vietman war. The dioxin contaminant TCDD within ’245T’ is considered to be highly toxic to humans. Exposure to dioxins is alleged to have resulted in an estimated 10% increase in cancer deaths in the New Plymouth area.

Over a 30 year time span 20 million litres of the 2 herbicides were sprayed in New Zealand to control gorse and other weeds. The NZ government was said to have subsidised the use of the herbicides and 245T was both produced and used in NZ long after other countries had banned them. Production in the USA ceased in 1979 but continued in New Plymouth until 1987


The air at more than half of all the air sampling sheds in New Zealand fails quality tests, with much of the pollution caused by residential wood smoke during winter, even with proposed improvements 45% of the population will still be exposed to higher than acceptable levels of PM10s.

One of New Zealand’s rivers – The Manawatu – is among the most polluted in the world and many beaches suffer pollution from stormwater and waste water overflows making them unsafe to swim on.

Tonnes of toxic herbicides and pesticides are dropped from helicopters over thousands of hectares of countryside every year, including the highly controversial and dangerous poisons 1080 (see 1080 posts) and Brodifacoum (a rat poison similar to warfarin) – neither of them are intended to be distributed from the air, they are supposed to be laid in covered bait stations. Weed killer is also sprayed from helicopters over wide swathes of countryside in an effort to eradicate non-native plants such as gorse. Tourists, workers, farm animals, native fauna and pets have all been exposed to these toxins – sometimes with fatal consequences.

A new class of insecticides called  neonicotinoids are widely used in New Zealand. They are thought to be contributing to the rapid decrease in the honey bee population.  By 2008 the Environmental Risk Management Agency had licensed 23 neonicotinoid-based products, despite mounting evidence of the harm the neurotoxin was having on bees.

By May 2011 an alarming “bee colony collapse” had been observed over a six month period in New Zealand. In some places 30% of the population had disappeared. But despite some classes of neonicotinoid being banned in Italy, Germany and France there are no plans to curb its use in New Zealand.

An example of joined up thinking with regards to sustainable development in New Zealand can be seen is the construction of a new school in the Remarkables, Queenstown.

It is the first new state primary school to have opened in the lower North Island since the 1970s cost $17.3 million to build but it was refused a grant to install an energy efficient, sustainable energy system. The school is now reliant on electricity and paying more than $10,000 a month with an estimated spend of $75,000 for the full year. The education ministry doesn’t fund electricity bills of that size and the shortfall must come from the school’s operating budget, or community fund raising.

Polluted Water

According to Environment Southland’s report Southland Water 2010: Our Ecosystem, 89 % of the rivers and streams in the region are rated poor or very poor for quality. The 1 per cent comprises a single site – the Monowai River below the gates. No river or stream gets a “very good” rating. source

Dairy run off pollutes may popular bathing waters. For instance, cattle are been blamed for contaminating water at two river swimming spots and in Moenui Bay, at the head of Pelorus Sound, where bacteria levels have exceeded Environment Ministry standards. Laboratory tests confirmed cows were the source of bacteria in water at Moenui Bay and swimming spots at Rai Falls and Brown River Reserve, both on the Rai River (Jan 2011) source

Dangerously high levels of nitrate are spreading across bores in Southland and some people are being told be wary of drinking contaminated water. High nitrate levels at Balfour have been known for at least 10 years and it appears the problem is spreading. Testing by the regional council in 2009 showed nitrate levels in 25 per cent of the 32 bores sampled to the southwest of Balfour had nitrate levels above the maximum allowable value of the national drinking water standards.” (July 2011)

Under a system measuring oxygen changes in water, the Manawatu has by far the highest reading, almost twice as much as the next worst. The Manawatu measured 107. Anything over eight is considered indicative of an unhealthy river ecosystem. A measurement of 0–4 is considered healthy…Tests further south at Palmerston North were not as high but still indicated an unhealthy ecosystem. Checks internationally found the closest pollution reading to be 59, for a site on a river near Berlin, downstream from a sewage outfall…“Horowhenua District Council admitted in September pumping 5.1m litres of partially treated sewage – including tampons, condoms and toilet paper – into the river over 48 hours in October 2007.”
See also Fixing the Manawatu will take time

  • It took 4 days to clean up the latest an oil and diesel spill in the Kawau Stream in Palmerston North. The stream has a history of pollution with 2 spills in the last fortnight and 6 pollution events in 2007. The most recent was when oil and diesel was thought to have ‘spilled’ from a mechanical workshop. Pollutants over the years have changed the colour of the water in the stream, from black to green to white. The council plans to install new oil interceptors at the end of stormwater pipes in July next year as part of its 10-year plan (July 2010)

Polluted Air

Carbon Emissions

  • NZ’s failure to cut greenhouse gas emissions could cost the country a Kyoto liability of between $1-5 billion. The authors of one book describe the Government’s current ETS as “technically obsolete” and “beyond rescue” as a sustainable framework for tackling climate change. They say the scheme will not make any inroads into cutting New Zealand’s gross emissions levels. “There is complacency in New Zealand that credits for storing carbon in forestry crops will save the country from having to seriously address reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.”

Oil and Mineral Exploitation

  • There’s an estimated $140 billion of minerals including gold, copper, iron and molybdenum beneath NZ. Plus another $100 Billion worth of lignite in the Southland lignite field. The minerals industry is now pushing the National led government to open up conservation land for mining. They are pushing at an opened door.

The Use of Pesticides and Herbicides

Contaminated Land

Use of Dangerous/Ozone Depleting Chemicals

Unsustainable farming practices/Destruction of Rainforest Ecosystems

3 thoughts on “Green Credentials, Or Green Wash?

  1. NZ….clean and green, beacon of environmentalism, 100% pure has a small secret under the sea:

    “The Ross Sea, the last intact ocean ecosystem on the planet, is free of pollution, invasive species and mining. The Commission for the Conservation of the Antarctic Marine Living Resources, the 25-country body that manages the marine resources, wants it to stay that way. There’s a snag: New Zealand.

    A Ministry of Fisheries document leaked to Fairfax shows Wellington, backed by the United States, does not want all the Ross Sea declared a marine protected area. Maps in the document show a big chunk would be excluded from a marine park, allowing the fishing industry to keep catching toothfish – a lucrative business for our fishing industry… ”

  2. This is a .dnl format e-book that looks interesting. You have to download desktop publishing software, however, to read it. The normal programs you have on your PC will not open this format. You will need DNL reader or something, and all the unwanted inclusions that downloaded software programs come with (toolbars and uninvited information gathering). But your more computer-savvy readers might want to check it out, if they have sensitivities or allergies.

      “The horrendous and TRUE story of a family trapped in New Zealand by POLLUTION!
      In a country that is Branded 100% Pure NZ they were amazed and disgusted to discover that it is heavily polluted. This is their story!”

Comments are closed.