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Repurposing slash: What should be done about the devastating debris

21 February, 2023

Interview by Milly Smyth, adapted by Stella Huggins

Tairāwhiti farmer and national board member for Federated Farmers, Toby Williams, is calling on the government and the forestry industry to "step up"  to avoid future slash damage. Photo: Unsplash.

Listen to the full interview

Cyclone Gabrielle has wreaked havoc over the North Island, but a noticeable and avoidable source of damage has been slash.

Slash is waste products from the forestry industry, mostly in the form of large branches. This debris has annihilated infrastructure such as bridges, in the extreme flooding the region has seen recently. 

Tairāwhiti farmer and national board member for Federated Farmers, Toby Williams, told Milly Smyth on 95bFM's The Wire that a change in harvesting practices is imperative to avoid future slash damage.

One strategy to minimise the impact of waste is to repurpose branches and utilise them to create energy and biofuels. Chipping the debris would also mean that in extreme weather events, its impact on infrastructure won’t be as severe. 

Williams stressed that approaches to slash management can’t be “cookie-cutter” plans.

“What we want is bespoke rules that look at, especially for our region, highly erodible soils that are sensitive and fragile.” 

The reason these solutions have not already been implemented is the high cost. Transportation costs out of rural areas and to ports are “one of the biggest single costs”, according to Williams.

A potential solution to this, in his opinion, is the establishment of micro plants set up in isolated regions, to process closer to the source. But there are barriers to this including the cost of set-up, and the lack of technology in the industry for this idea to be rolled out.

Williams believes the talent to create these innovative solutions exists in Aotearoa, but that “it’s just a matter of people actually having the courage to step up and do it, or the funding behind them to do it.”

“The government needs to step up.”

The view of locals is that the community should not pay the price of the industry’s sub-par management of their waste. Williams said the government should take some responsibility for this, but also the landowners who created the waste.

He compared the issue to mining and dairy farming, citing the strict regulations on both industries to manage their effluent products and ensure they don’t reach waterways.

If this had happened in their industries, he said “you’d be shut down in an instant.”

But it isn’t just residents of the flood-stricken regions that have involvement in the issue or can rally for the cause.

Williams said that slash needs to become an election issue and that the public of Aotearoa needs to “put pressure on the ministers, especially Minister Nash [the Minister of Forestry], to actually get some teeth into this and not be pro-forestry.”

“With an election coming up, the public have power with their votes.”

Public interest journalism funded through NZ On Air