New Zealanders dumping record amounts of waste

From Checkpoint, 5:24 pm on 20 May 2019

New Zealanders are generating record amounts of waste, despite promises from the government that it would turn our rubbish habits around.

That's up on 3.49 million tonnes in 2017, 3.4 million tonnes in 2016 and 3.2 million tonnes in 2015.

Associate Environment Minister Eugenie Sage said the upward trend was because the government was playing catch-up on waste minimisation.

"There's been a total neglect in the waste space for the last decade.

"We don't have enough onshore capability. 

"Things like waste paper and card; we need a fibre mill here to deal with that. 

"Councils have completely different systems, so getting greater consistency there will make it easier for the operators."

At the start of last year, China revealed it would stop importing waste - which has had massive knock-on effects for recyclers here.

Nearly a dozen councils around New Zealand no longer take plastics 3 to 7 for recycling - things such as yoghurt pottles and takeaway containers, as they cannot find markets to send them to.

Ms Sage said China's ban had highlighted that New Zealand needed to do better with its waste. She recently revealed a number of measures the government was taking in response.

They include identifying gaps in recycling and waste infrastructure, reviewing kerbside collection and processing, and undertaking feasibility studies around how to increase fibre processing and plastic reprocessing capacity.

But those plans have failed to impress some anti-waste campaigners.

Zero Waste New Zealand chief executive Jo Knight said the they had limited scope and the slow pace would not curb New Zealand's dirty dumping practice.

"Really disappointing, debilitating and glacial - we nearly need to be moving enormously faster than this.

"China signalled nearly 20 years ago that they were going to do this; we should've been getting ready for this."

But environmental consultant Sandra Murray said while progress in combatting waste may seem slow, things were moving faster than they had in the past.

"While it doesn't seem like much is actually happening, it is more than anyone else has done.

"There were certainly provisions in the Waste Minimisation Act 2008 which have not been enacted at all - Eugenie Sage is making announcements and she has directed Ministry for the Environment staff to investigate mandatory product stewardship and other issues."

She said there was a fundamental problem with New Zealanders' waste because there were no restrictions on what manufacturers were able to pump out.

"If you go to somewhere like Europe, they have a lot of regulation around what you can make packaging out of … to creating materials which can be collected and reused.

"But in New Zealand we've just got open season."

Ms Sage said changes such as product stewardship were being looked at by the government - but they would take some time.

Ms Sage said an increase on a landfill levy was also vital in reducing the amount of waste being dumped.

A discussion document on levy changes will be released later in the year.