20 Oct 2021

Environment advocate says govt needs to focus on supply chain for waste reduction

1:16 pm on 20 October 2021

The government's ideas to reduce waste have been slated as a band-aid and a missed opportunity.

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File photo. Photo: 123RF

It wants public feedback on its new waste strategy.

New Zealand is one of the largest generators of waste per person in the world - we each send three-quarters of a tonne every year, and we are getting worse.

Waste makes up 4 percent of this country's climate gas emissions and nearly a tenth of our biogenic methane, and the Climate Change Commission has set a target for reducing waste-related biogenic methane emissions by 40 percent by 2035.

The government has released its consultation document to try and tackle this, committing to building a circular economy by 2050 and establishing targets for waste reduction by 2030.

But Sue Coutts from the Zero Waste Network said the plan lacked the bold steps needed to stop companies generating wasteful products in the first place.

"At the moment that document seems to be focusing on dealing with the material at the very end of its life.

"So you know, 'pick up a bit more litter', 'put things in the right bin', and that's really not going to get us to where we need to go.

"We've got to get right back up in the supply chain and start having an influence over what kinds of products are getting made and how they're being distributed to us."

The government is focusing on six priority areas for "product stewardship" - making producers responsible for the end life of their goods.

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Photo: Ministry for the Environment

These include tyres, plastic packaging, electronic products, agrichemicals and their containers, refrigerants and farm plastics.

Coutts said this list needed to be greatly expanded.

"At the moment someone can put a package on the market today and [tomorrow] recyclers are going 'oh man, what do we do with this?'.

"And if you go to a producer and you say, 'we need you to change your system', they're like, 'that might take us three or four years to be able to do that'.

Coutts wanted the government to commit to establishing an entity tasked with working with producers, recyclers, local and central government to get to zero waste.

Harry Burkhardt, the manager director of Packaging New Zealand - which represents large manufacturers such as Fonterra and Tetra Pak - said product stewardship was far from a silver bullet.

"If the government wants to put [product stewardship] in, [they can] fill their boots.

"But we don't believe that's going to change the dial, the accountability actually lies with all of us. Not [just] the producers of the packaging, it's also the users of the packaging, and it's also the regulatory framework that that packaging is used in."

Burkhardt said society and consumers might balk at the cost increases from truly accounting for the life-cycle of products.

He said the trade-offs required to commit to the circular economy were not sufficiently addressed in the consultation document.

WasteMINZ's has more than 1000 members from across the waste sector including recyclers, tip operators and local government.

Its chief executive Janine Brinsdon said the most exciting new thing in the document was the wide commitment to the circular economy.

"If we can start to get MBIE and MPI and some of those other all-of-government agencies and ministries thinking along the circular economy, then that's new.

"That would be incredibly powerful and exciting."

Green Party MP Eugenie Sage, who was associate Environment Minister in the previous Parliamentary term, said good progress was made then by banning single use plastic bags and micro beads in cosmetics. It ramped up work dealing with tyres, e-waste and starting a beverage container return scheme.

She wants efforts to build on that work sped up - including a nationwide standardised recycling scheme, and plans to ban food and organic waste from most landfills by 2030 to be brought forward.

"In Christchurch, we've had curbside collection of organic and green waste for about a decade that is composted, and there's a high demand for that compost.

"We can help solve the nitrate pollution of water through the use of synthetic fertilizer by using more composting - and that involves councils collecting green waste and food scraps."

Consultation will run for six weeks until 26 November 2021.

What are product stewardship schemes?

Product stewardship schemes mean the responsibility and cost for a product's lifecycle and stay with manufacturers, importers, retailers and users, rather than falling on communities, councils and nature.

Internationally, product stewardship schemes are important tools for transitioning to a circular economy.

The schemes typically work by requiring a fee to be paid when a product first enters the market. The fees are held in a fund and used to ensure products are recycled or safely treated as part of disposal. Some schemes require retailers and others to take back products or packaging.

The report said the government was looking to improve legislative support for the schemes.

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