It’s all connected

By Phil Jones

GulfX is all about connecting the dots between what we do on land and the state of our waterways and the Gulf. 

So, how does our transport system fit in? Everyone knows that most of our vehicles pollute our air and add to our carbon emissions, but how do they affect water?

With plastic pollution, we all too easily see the effect – plastic on our beaches, the shocking images of ensnared sea-life.

The problem of sediment is often less visible, but after a torrential downpour there’s usually a stream or river which turns a murky brown. The worst examples make headlines.

With transport we can’t actually see the problem – microscopic fragments of copper and zinc aren’t exactly visible!

NZ has one of the highest rates of car ownership in the world – basically about one for each adult. So, that’s about 1.7 million in Auckland! (We want to see a different transport system – fewer cars and more bikes, e-bikes, and low pollution public transport – but that’s for a different article!)

Each of these vehicles has copper in brake pads and zinc in tyres. As we drive and brake, tiny fragments erode away. They settle on our roads and await the next downpour which flushes them into the nearest stormwater drain and waterway.

In low volumes this isn’t a problem, but both copper and zinc are toxic at elevated levels. Marine life is affected, especially those creatures living in sediment where much of it settles.

The good news is that there is a solution – well, at least for the copper in brake pads. There are now low copper brake pads available in New Zealand – a big improvement on the current ones which have up to 25% copper.

This is a perfect example of how regulation drives innovation and change. But not in NZ, in the (saner parts of the) US.

In the past few years, a couple of US states (California and Washington) have introduced regulation requiring lower copper levels (by 2025, levels must be under 0.5%).

As California is such a huge market, global brake pad and automotive manufacturers are compelled to respond. Some manufacturers are already meeting this 2025 requirement.

To make it easy, the Leaf Mark label has been introduced on brake pad packaging. This shows the level of heavy metals, and especially copper, in the brake pad. There are three levels – the best is ‘N’ which indicates less than 0.5% copper. Down from 25% – that’s how good environmental regulation makes a difference.

No similar regulation exists in NZ – but in this case it doesn’t matter (or matters less). As a technology taker, dependent on global supply of brake pads, our environment reaps the benefits of overseas regulation.

So, when your vehicle (or fleet) next needs new brake pads ask your supplier about low copper pads. The Leaf Mark ‘N’ labelled pads are available in many automotive parts suppliers, including Partmaster (Woking brand) and Repco (TRW brand).  You don’t have to worry about lower functional performance – they’ll stop your vehicle at least as well your existing pads.

In the meantime, go easy on the braking – that’ll help with the zinc run-off too (that problem isn’t yet solved).

And when the time comes to trade in the car, if you need a replacement go electric – not just lower carbon emissions, but the regenerative braking reduces the need for conventional braking.

Join the GulfX Mission here – it’s free!

For more ideas on how to take action and protect the Gulf, check out our actions page here.