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Some are bakeries, supermarkets and takeaway shops dumping the contents of their dirty grease traps. But some of New Zealand's biggest manufacturers and brands are also discharging contaminants - many of them dangerous - and most have breached the conditions of their consents multiple times.
Data obtained from 68 city and district councils paints a grim picture of compliance, showing at least 276 companies have breached their conditions.
RNZ approached every* company named in the story for comment. You can read the full statements of those who responded here.
Alliance Group is strongly committed to improving our environmental performance and we continuously invest to improve the outcomes at our plants. We recently invested in new equipment to further remove contaminants, which will improve our compliance.
One of the challenges of meeting our food safety requirements is the need to use products that cause variable pH levels. Whilst we monitor this continuously, at times of low wastewater flows, these products are not sufficiently diluted to always achieve compliance.
We acknowledge in these instances we have not met our own expectations at Smithfield. We are in regular discussions with Timaru District Council on how to best address compliance requirements.
bStudio was commissioned in late 2018 as the first large format craft brewery in NZ. Since then bStudio has built a trade waste profile whilst the business grew in capacity. Initially the business used a large settling tank which was periodically emptied, but this proved inadequate. The company invested significant sums of money to change to a homogenous waste stream capture, whilst reducing solids discharge through changes in processing. These have been partially successful and in the right direction to determine what investment is required to achieve all consent requirements.
With homogenous waste new equipment has been purchased and installed to manage pH and we are now compliant.
Regarding the BOD and solids levels in our discharge water, bStudio is trialling the capture of solids which are organic yeast, hop material and fine malt grain . Once completed, the trial data will be reviewed to then understand what the correct management solution is.
We use the trade waste treatment services that Councils provide to businesses. In many cases, the 'breaches' you mention are misalignments in how we are paying for this service.
We have agreements with Councils relating to the flow and composition of our waste and we work with the Council when there are any variations to this.
We've found in some cases that there can be discrepancies with monitoring, resulting in minor or technical breaches. It's important to note these do not pose a threat to the environment or the community.
Clearly, we want to be doing what's right by our agreements. That's why we are working with Councils to upgrade our trade waste agreements to make sure we're all on the same page and Fonterra is accurately paying for trade waste services upfront.
Goodman Fielder New Zealand
Goodman Fielder NZ confirms that two of our sites, Ernest Adams and Yoplait located in Palmerston North, have received penalty charges at both sites relating to Biological Oxygen Demand (BOD) levels above consent requirements.
Goodman Fielder retains an ongoing commitment to continuous improvement in trade waste management at our manufacturing facilities and this includes environmental stewardship.
Specifically, at the Ernest Adams and Yoplait sites we are working to:
1. Capture wastewater at the point of generation and transfer offsite for use in animal feed.
2. Reduce the volume of wastewater generated through cleaner production initiatives; and
3. Improve discharge quality through pH treatment, solids removal and alternative cleaning systems.
We continue to engage regularly with Palmerston North Council regarding trade waste management. Goodman Fielder is working to continuously improve environmental and trade waste management."
Horowhenua District Council (Levin Landfill)
The breaches concerned COD and TKN. COD (Chemical Oxygen Demand) measures chemical matter in the leachate, and TKN (Total Kjeldahl Nitrogen) measures a combination of organic nitrogen and ammonia nitrogen in the leachate.
Leachate from the Levin Landfill (the current landfill) is pumped to Levin Wastewater Treatment Plant (WWTP) to be treated and discharged to land at The Pot as treated wastewater effluent. The leachate is mixed with sewerage and trade waste from Levin before entering the Levin WWTP.
COD and TKN are measured in our bylaw because there is potential for excessive levels to cause operational issues at the WWTP. However, the breaches do not pose any risk to public health, and there are processes in place as part of WWTP operations to manage any operational issues that may arise.
Council is working with the Landfill Operator to improve the situation.
McCain Foods is committed to continually improving business operations and practices to reduce its environmental impact - including improving its Trade Waste Discharge Consent.
Over recent years, McCain has increased monitoring, engaged in independent calibration and consolidation of data across our entire operation. In addition, we have introduced new technology at the plant that has driven significant reductions in our water and energy usage as well as a reduction in the volume of trade waste.
McCain is proud of our ongoing relationship with the Timaru Council to ensure Trade Waste consent limits are met as far as practicable. The business is consistently exploring new ways to reduce our impact to the trade waste system, better monitoring and diagnostic systems, infrastructure and capital investments and administrative measures which offer incremental improvements in our trade waste discharges.
Moana New Zealand
Our Palmerston North site processes live pāua (abalone) and produces Ready to Eat meals (RTE's). Our peak processing period for pāua is between 1 October and 28 February.
The penalties were received in February and November (during our peak season) and were for exceeding the Biological Oxygen Demand (BOD) limit in our consent. Biochemical oxygen demand (BOD) represents the amount of oxygen consumed by bacteria and other micro-organisms while they decompose organic matter under aerobic (oxygen is present) conditions at a specified temperature.
Wild caught New Zealand pāua has a black pigment and micro-organisms on the flesh and shell that are removed during the initial washing process into internal drains. Wastewater is held in the underground wastewater tank which are equipped with two cavity filtration/treatment systems). The quantity of waste increases the level of BOD during that time. Other factors that aid the increase of BOD's is warmer weather which usually coincides with the peak pāua season and the level of solids in the wastewater.
Moana New Zealand are very aware of the impact of elevated BOD levels on PNCC's sewage treatment plan and we are continually reviewing and improving our cleaning and solids removal methods to minimise our impact.
Key to ensuring limits are not exceeded is pre-treatment of wastewater. Here's how we do it:
1. Two large rumblers are used to wash the pāua. The rumbler is lined with fine mesh filters to minimise the level of solids entering wastewater. Filters are frequently cleaned and solids are collected by Palmerston North City Council (PNCC) and are then composted.
2. Our internal wastewater drains contain a sump immediately before the wastewater enters the underground pipes that carry the wastewater to the pre-treatment holding sumps. The internal sumps are also fitted with fine mesh filters to assist in the removal of solids. These sumps are emptied and cleaned daily at the end of production. These solids are also composted.
3. Our two PNCC approved external holding sumps consist of three chambers each. These sumps are designed to further assist the removal of any residual solids and are also regularly cleaned.
4.Sumps are emptied by PNCC quarterly however we have now agreed to double the frequency of emptying during the peak Paua processing season, further reducing the risk of breaching our consent."
Sanford has been exceeding some of the limits set on its trade waste consent in Timaru and we've been working over the last 12 months to stop that happening, since we submitted an improvement plan to Council in January 2020, which included operational improvements as well as additional machinery.
You will notice from the data, that the operational work we're doing is making a substantial difference. Over the last twelve months, we've gone from having a number of issues each month to having just a couple. For example, in September the only issue was with the pH of the material going to trade waste. We measure the pH of that discharge every ten minutes, 24 hours of the day during fishmeal plant operation. Our minimum limit is a pH of 6. The monitoring report shows that the discharge dropped below that lower pH limit on two occasions, with peaks of 5.48 and 5.97. Our overall pH compliance in these same weeks was 97.2% and 99.7%. There is one other week where it looks like we have exceeded (9th September), but that is a data error.
The big news is that we have finally taken delivery of a machine that is going to make a huge difference to us - it is a fish oil separator and it is being installed right now in Timaru. Its delivery was due in April last year but it was delayed because of supply chain issues out of India, caused by Covid-19. We are so pleased to have this machine on site and it will make a huge difference to the ongoing management of our trade waste.
Tasman Tanning is planning a $2-3m upgrade to make its processing more efficient and environmentally friendly, including recycling chemicals and effluent, and reduce water use. It is making these changes in order to gain an international environmental accreditation from the Leather Working Group.
Ziwi operates under a trade waste consent issued by the Tauranga City Council and works constructively with the council in minimising its wastewater output. As production has increased, the volume of washdown water used has also increased.
Ziwi's desire to continually improve its environmental footprint has seen the company replace its waste sump and invest half a million dollars in a state-of-the-art air purifying system at its Mount Maunganui site over the past 3 years. Ziwi is also installing a new wastewater treatment system in early 2021.
* Hundreds of companies appeared only in data visualisations, made using data accessed from local government authorities. These companies were not contacted.