20 Sep 2019

Indonesia to send contaminated recycling back to NZ

3:21 pm on 20 September 2019

Ministry for the Environment officials are still trying to determine how much contaminated recycling Indonesia is sending back to New Zealand.

Bales of recycling

Bales of recycling Photo: (Photo by Bas Emmen on Unsplash)

This week Indonesian officials found nearly 550 shipping containers had contaminated plastic waste that was unable to be recycled.

Australia has already had 100 containers shipped back, with New Zealand, the US, the UK, Belgium and Spain also on the list of containers to be returned.

Associate Environment Minister Eugenie Sage said she understood there could be five containers being sent back here, but it was still unclear.

"I don't know exactly how many containers may be being returned to New Zealand.

"We don't know also whether they came from somewhere else and came via New Zealand and then went to Indonesia.

"Ministry for the Environment officials are working with Foreign Affairs [officials] to find out what's happening on the ground in Indonesia," Ms Sage said.

More will be known in the next day or so, she said.

It is expected any waste that is returned that can be recycled onshore will be, otherwise it will likely end up in landfills.

Indonesia has become the main destination for used, low-grade plastic since China's National Sword initiative in 2018 banned the import of most types of plastic, due to high pollution levels and environmental concerns.

Ms Sage said this was a wake-up call.

"China has signalled and now Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam and other countries are saying they will no longer accept the world's waste.

"We have to reduce the waste we create and we have to recover more materials from products at their end of their life, reuse and reprocess them here in New Zealand.

"We need a fundamentally different approach to waste and that's what this government is doing with the National Sword Taskforce recommendations, with our work on product stewardship, and with plans to expand the landfill levy," she said.

Ms Sage said she expected New Zealand exporters to be abide by the import and export rules of countries they were sending waste to.

However the government was limited in what it could do to ensure they were meeting that expectation.

"There are provisions under the imports and exports legislation but the penalties are fairly low.

"But New Zealand was one of 180 countries in May who signed up to stronger provisions in the Basel Convention about regulating trade in plastic," she said.

Ms Sage said while the focus needed to be on reducing waste, and building up the ability to process waste here in New Zealand, consumers could also help by keeping recycling clean.

"By ensuring what they put in their recycling crates is what can be recycled - not 'wish-cycled'.

"Because in Indonesia, what was supposed to be plastic has been contaminated with things like baby nappies and other things which shouldn't be there," Ms Sage said.

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