Gisborne mortuary waste bylaw a first in NZ

A trade waste bylaw will for the first time in New Zealand be used to stop the “culturally offensive” practice of mortuary wastewater being discharged into rivers and the ocean.

There are “eyes” on Gisborne as it uses the “untested” method to remove mortuary waste from the city’s wastewater network, which discharges treated wastewater to Turanganui-a-Kiwa/Poverty Bay and raw sewage into city rivers in heavy rain events.

Turanganui-a-Kiwa tangata whenua believe it is “culturally offensive” for mortuary waste to be discharged into the sea, and along with the wider Tairawhiti community have petitioned against the “abhorrent” practice for more than 20 years.

Mortuary waste is made up of arterial blood and chemicals that mostly arise through the embalming process.

On average, about one cubic metre of water (1000 litres) is required to put one body through the process.

The proposed bylaw will see mortuary service providers, like funeral homes, separate the waste and store it on-site before it is trucked to a council-approved facility.

It is recommended the waste be disposed of at Taruheru Cemetery in a specifically-designed Wisconsin mound system.

Leroy Pardoe, who was chairing the wastewater management committee meeting at Gisborne District Council on Thursday, commended his colleagues and the other groups involved on the “really sterling work” which had got them to this point.

“It’s hugely encouraging that this particular board is one that has always been able to work collaboratively, bringing in whatever skills we need from our various organisations.

“I think it is pointing the way not only for other councils but allows us to be leading the charge on what’s a really significant part of local infrastructure and of major cultural significance.

“I guess the challenge for us looking forward is how we continue to progress the work that has started here.”

Council staff drafted the new bylaw in partnership with the KIWA group — a body set up to provide cultural advice and technical support.

KIWA group chairman Ian Ruru thanked the committee for progressing the proposed draft bylaw to the next step.

“It’s quite a big move . . . we’ve been doing this for years and years but I think nationally there are eyes on us,” he said.

District councillor Larry Foster asked whether there was a lot of interest and if other councils might implement the same protocols.

Ruru said they had been sharing progress at national water workshops in Wellington and there was “huge interest” from the Ministry for the Environment.

Cr Terry Sheldrake said the conversation started around 2015 and it was looking to be in place by 2022.

“Obviously an incredible amount of work and thought and process has gone into this. I think it is great that we’re leading this across the country.”

The wastewater management committee endorsed the draft trade waste bylaw at the Thursday meeting.

It will go to the Sustainable Tairawhiti committee on December 10 and pending approval will go to formal consultation from March to May 2021.

Council lifelines director David Wilson said staff identified the trade waste bylaw as the “cleanest method to remove mortuary waste from the public waste stream”.

Wilson said they had been consulting with funeral service provider Evans, Gisborne Hospital and Stonehaven, and were discussing “what the logistics look like” around numbers and volumes.

A staff report said the change would safeguard Maori tikanga and support the Maori world view.

It did not list risks associated with the bylaw, saying it was the first time a trade waste bylaw had been used to prohibit mortuary waste in New Zealand, and was therefore “untested”.

Also at the meeting, committee members appointed new chairs following the resignation of former chair and councillor Amber Dunn in August.

Acting chair Leroy Pardoe and Cr Sheldrake are now co-chairs of the committee.

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