30 Jul 2020

No more free rides for harmful trash producers

8:32 am on 30 July 2020

By Eva Corlett, housing reporter

Businesses producing harmful products such as tyres, plastic packaging and electronics will soon have to start cleaning up their own trash.

The Computer Recycling centre in Onehunga, Auckland

File photo. Photo: Emile Donovan

The new government policy, which was announced by Associate Environment Minister Eugenie Sage, aims to shift the burden of waste management from communities and councils back onto those who manufacture the products.

It's part of the government's $124 million waste reduction scheme which hopes to reduce the tonnes of waste that goes to landfill every year.

Roughly 80 percent of electronics that we buy end up in landfill.

It starts by prioritising six products that businesses will have to take responsibility for - tyres, plastic packaging, electronic waste, farm plastics, agrichemicals and refrigerants.

Those businesses will have to work with government to create ways to recycle, dispose of or repurpose their own products.

That may be a levy applied on the product, waste pick-ups arranged, or customers could drop products back to the store, for example.

Sage said mandatory regulation is the best way to get waste out of landfill and level the playing field.

"Where there are voluntary schemes you've had free-riders, and not everyone participating."

Sage pointed to agri-chemical containers, where some manufacturers don't have processes in place to safely dispose of used products.

"[There are] those that do bear some of the cost of that, and others ride free. So there's support from those wanting to deal with waste that we all have to contribute to dealing with products at the end of their life," she said.

The policy could also change how businesses think about design, she said.

"It makes businesses think about design, so they're easy to take apart, easy to recover materials and reuse those materials.

"Smart companies will think about that early."

At E-Waste Services in Porirua, where the announcement was made, Wayne Sharpe, a TV dismantler and truck-driver picks apart the electronics board of a TV.

Nearly every part of it will be salvaged, recycled and then sold on to buyers all over the world - gold, copper, wires.

Wayne Sharpe, TV dismantler and truck driver at E-Waste Services, Porirua.

Wayne Sharpe, TV dismantler and truck driver at E-Waste Services, Porirua. Photo: RNZ / Eva Corlett

He said the government's push to make this type of recycling mandatory was a great step.

"It's great to be involved in a project where you know we're doing good for the earth," he said.

Adele Rose, the chief executive of 3R Group - a company that already helps tyre businesses and packaging companies set up good waste disposal methods - is encouraging businesses who are not already part of a voluntary scheme to get enthusiastic.

"There will be people that feel that this is a major impact on their business. But I would encourage them to look at the positive side of this. Don't dig your heels in or bury your head, because you will get left behind," she said.

Sue Coutts from Zero Waste Network said it was a happy day for those who had been working on this project for 20 years.

"Obviously it's the first step. Declaring these priority products means we start the process. There's a long, long way to go from here. But it's amazing to be over the line."

The Ministry for the Environment will now work with manufacturers and retailers to come up with stewardship schemes that work for them and the environment, Eugenie Sage said.

Funding has also been earmarked: $70,000 will go towards E-Waste to do a feasibility study on reducing e-waste plastic going to landfill, and $320,000 will go to TechCollect to come up with design options for a regulated e-waste product stewardship scheme.

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