Pollution in New Zealand
Updated: Jun 14, 2021
"Green, clean New Zealand"?
When I first moved to New Zealand in 1999, I thought I'm moving to this pristine place with crystal clear water and unspoilt beaches. I still think New Zealand is a beautiful country with stunning places, but I'm also aware of the areas that are not living up to the green, clean image I had.
Our rivers and beaches
One of my biggest concerns is that our rivers and beaches are so polluted we often can't swim in them. Having had the hottest summer on record, many of the popular swimming spots around Auckland and the rest of the country were unsafe for swimming.
In Auckland, one of the reasons is sewage overflow due to the huge amounts of rainfall we've had and an inadequate wastewater infrastructure. When we have big storms, the storm water seeps into the sewage system. To prevent the sewage from overflowing, it is pumped out onto the city's beaches. Human faeces in the water carry bacteria and viruses that can be harmful to our health and we could end up with skin infections, gastroenteritis or other illnesses.
According to Auckland Mayor Phil Goff, the council could reduce wastewater overflows by as much as 80 to 90 per cent within a decade. This still seems like a very long time to go - especially since this problem didn't only just start yesterday.
Another big problem for our polluted waterways is the farming industry. According to Statistics NZ, dairy cattle increased by nearly 69 percent, from 3.84 million in 1994 to 6.49 million in 2017.
With that many cows urinating, the nitrogen levels in our water is way too high. Too much total nitrogen can lead to excessive growth of algae, which can deteriorate river habitats and can be toxic to aquatic life.
In 20 years (between 1994 - 2013) nitrate-nitrogen concentrations worsened at over 55 percent and improved at 27.6 percent of all monitored sites across NZ.
Dairy farming also has a big effect on our greenhouse gas emissions, which have been steadily increasing.
So, before you go for a swim, make sure to check safeswim.org.nz for Auckland beaches and lawa.org.nz for the rest of NZ.
Another area that doesn't match the green, clean image of New Zealand, is the continued use of plastic bags. Not only do the supermarkets still hand out plastic bags, everything is packed in plastic.
Countdown and New World supermarkets are phasing out plastic bags by the end of the year - which is a start. But this still leaves all the plastic wrappings.
It also really annoys me that even organic products are packed in plastic. Why would an organic company pack its milk or yogurt into plastic bottles? Why not use glass or cartons? Unless they care more about money than the environment....
Plastic is a huge problem - globally, 300 million tons of plastic is produced every year. It takes up to 1,000 years for plastic to degrade. Every single plastic item produced still exists today - it covers our land and oceans. We have produced billions of metric tons of plastic waste in the last 50 years. If we don't change our ways rapidly, we will kill our marine life and leave a total mess for our kids to deal with. I'm sad to say that my generation and the generation before, are responsible for polluting the world to the brink of destruction.
We all need to do our part now - everyone can make a difference. Bring your own bags when you go shopping. Look for alternatives to plastic - find shops that are plastic free. Support products that are not packed in plastic. Educate your kids. Make a request at your local shops to reduce their plastic use.
Support shops like GoodFor on Williamson Ave in Ponsonby. There is not one plastic bag in sight. You bring your own container, get it weight first and then fill it up with your flours, seeds, nuts, oils etc. I love to support local businesses like this one.
Statistic NZ: http://archive.stats.govt.nz/browse_for_stats/environment/environmental-reporting-series/environmental-indicators/Home/Land/livestock-numbers.aspx
Auckland council: safeswim.org.nz
Land, air, water, aetaroa: lawa.org.nz