Heavy metals in our oceans poison fish and shellfish, decrease their fertility and accumulate in their bodies. Changing the brake pads on your car is the simplest and most effective way to keep metals out of the water.


If you spend much time driving in Auckland (and let’s face it, that’s still most of us), every time your foot touches the brakes, you’re adding to the problem of heavy metals in our seawater.

Most brake pads are made of copper alloy. During braking, tiny particles of copper (and other heavy metals in the pads, such as lead and antimony) flake off on to the roads, where they’re washed into stormwater drains when it rains, and eventually make their way out to sea, as well as into urban streams and rivers.

It’s the most common source of metal pollutants in water, and the Britomart-based Sustainable Business Network is driving (no pun intended) a campaign to encourage people to change to low-copper or copper-free brake pads.

While the Sustainable Business Network is working with corporations to transition whole car fleets to low or zero-copper brake pads, communications and campaigns lead Andy Kenworthy says it’s a simple change that anyone can make… and with Saturday 8 June being World Oceans Day, this weekend is a great time to get your car’s brake pads checked and changed.

“Changing to low-copper or copper-free brake pads is something that has a lot of potential for positive effects, in that most organisations have cars, or at least the people who work in them do,” says Andy.

Copper-free and low-copper brake pads are available from all auto-parts retailers, and cost about 50 percent more than regular brake pads. “They are more premium in price, but they are better quality too, so they give better performance and last longer,” Andy says.

The immediacy and effectiveness of changing to copper-free brake pads has garnered a lot of interest, says Andy. “The Auckland harbour gets people emotionally connected to the idea of water pollution. Three-quarters of people in a business survey said that they love having the Gulf on our doorstep. Auckland is the harbour, so people want to protect it.”