I’ve been really interested in recent work around waste minimisation and in particular The Truth About Plastics Recycling report by WasteMINZ. It highlights the three principles of the circular economy:

  • Design out waste and pollution
  • Keep products and materials in use
  • Regenerate natural systems

It struck me that these three principles are entirely applicable to land use but I’ve never seen them in any planning documents.

Designing Out Pollution

Pollution is the introduction of harmful substances into the environment. A classic example of this is vehicle crossings. Most drain to the carriageway and discharge hydrocarbons (from oil and petrol residue) and other toxins (like fertiliser, herbicide and pesticide residue) as well as sediment through the stormwater network to water bodies.

The Broken Window Fallacy (i.e. Opportunity Cost) teaches us that it’s better to ‘design out’ vehicle crossing runoff through rules instead of building and maintaining a stormwater system to treat contaminated runoff. This can be easily achieved with the following:

  • Porous concrete or asphalt
  • Solid or turf pavers
  • Plastic grids
  • Ribbons

Re-Using Places

In our zeal for single use zoning we’ve created single use buildings. Standalone family homes can only be used for one purpose. Single use buildings are difficult to adapt to other uses and are the least resilient of all structures. There’s no two ways about it, building single family homes is just a waste of resources.

Regenerating Nature

Regeneration is the process of renewal, restoration and growth. It’s very different from the dreadful ‘protect, maintain and enhance’ planning regime. I think of regeneration like healing – first, do no harm. There is much healing of the earth to be done and planners should be leading that charge. Every permitted activity and resource consent decision should be creating a more circular economy.