AN Invercargill City councillor has fast become a central figure in trying to find a waste solution for a small island nation in the central Pacific Ocean.
Cr Lindsay Thomas spent time in Kiribati this month working with the nation’s two councils in an attempt to come up with a cost-effective way to manage its waste.
Kiribati relied a lot on international aid and it has been predicted by some environmental scientists that by 2100 it will be largely submerged because of global warming.
In 2016 Cr Thomas and former city council chief executive Richard King were invited by Local Government New Zealand to travel to Kiribati to share their thoughts on waste.
Local Government New Zealand picked up the travel tab, as it did for this month’s trip by Cr Thomas.
Local Government New Zealand approached the city council because it had linked with the Southland District Council and Gore District Council to form WasteNet Southland, a joint organisation which oversaw waste services throughout the province.
Cr Thomas and Cr Ian Pottinger are the city council’s representatives on the organisation.
Kiribati’s councils were also looking at ways to join forces to deliver an efficient waste system, although it had been easier said than done.
“[The councils] are very separate, it is quite tribal,” Cr Thomas said.
When Cr Thomas and Mr King travelled to Kiribati in 2016, they had talked with local officials about the prospect of amalgamating the two waste services, similar to what had been done in Southland.
However, after they returned to New Zealand they had been advised the councils in Kiribati had voted against that.
Kiribati lacked industry and as a result job opportunities, Cr Thomas said.
If the councils had amalgamated waste services, that would have led to job losses and the councils did not want that.
The Invercargill City councillor returned to Kiribati this month to talk through ways the two services could remain in place but with cost-effective measures introduced.
Waste, and recycling in particular, was a topical problem globally because of China restricting imports of waste products.
Kiribati’s challenges were even more advanced because of its remoteness and limited area for landfills, Cr Thomas said.
He was in Kiribati and unavailable for comment when the Southland Express asked all 12 Invercargill City councillors if they would be standing at next year’s local body election.
He had since confirmed he would seek re-election next year.
When asked what he believed the city council’s biggest achievement over the past two years was, he responded: “Council is finally getting some structure around projects and the latest LTP (Long Term Plan) that took a tremendous amount of councillor and staff work.
“This document shows the public what council hopes to achieve in the next 10 years. Also the partnering with the HWR Group to revitalise the inner city.”
And what did he feel could be improved in the future?
“Council is constantly looking at its financial management and while we have signalled in the Long Term Plan (LTP) several rates rises, we are very aware that council has to be innovative in keeping these numbers lower than predicted.
“With prudent use of reserves and financial budgeting, it just may be possible to keep to the rate of inflation.”