Hundreds of thousands of tonnes of reusable and recyclable materials are going to landfill each year in NZ because waste disposal is the cheapest option. This includes electronic waste, plastic film, beverage containers and construction waste.

A new report by Eunomia has proposed raising NZ’s landfill levy from the current $10 per tonne to as high as $140 per tonne. Raising the levy would mean reusing and recycling waste products and materials would become the cheaper option. It would also help foster design innovation by manufacturers (to avoid the costs of disposal) and grow the recycling industry.

An increased levy could bring in up to $200 million revenue each year to help support new recycling processes and support businesses that at present can’t compete with the cheap cost of landfill.

The Eunomia report also estimates an increase in employment of 9,000 jobs. Many of these jobs will be entry level jobs in rural areas, hard hit by the increasingly globalized economy.

“In order to be most effective, an increased levy will need to be matched with proper product stewardship to ensure producers take responsibility for the whole life cycle of their products” says Sandra Murray, Co-ordinator for the Product Stewardship Council “currently, anyone can sell un-recyclable, un-repairable short life span products, with no thought of the cost of disposal. Ratepayers and councils have had enough”.

A gradually increased landfill levy combined with best practice product stewardship schemes will completely change the nature and costs of waste disposal in NZ.

Since the Waste Minimisation Act was passed in 2008, Government has refused to use the internationally proven regulatory components of the Act to reduce rubbish and reduce the costs to the public.

Instead, over $70M of landfill levy money has been spent on projects and schemes which have had little, if any, impact on the amount of rubbish created or going to landfill.

“The piecemeal and ineffective allocation of the landfill levy contestable fund has failed to support the recycling market, failed to create a level playing field for businesses and failed to address the key waste problems like packaging, tyres, e-waste and agricultural chemicals” says Sandra.

“While the Product Stewardship Council supports an increased levy, we are concerned at the ineffective way levy funds are currently being spent. With an increased levy, there is an even greater risk that the fund will be used for political purposes rather than effective waste minimisation. Therefore we call for the contestable levy fund to be overseen by an independent committee – such as the existing Waste Advisory Board – not a politician”.

The most important functions of an increased landfill levy will be to enable reuse and recycling to be cheaper than landfill; and to encourage design innovation to avoid waste being created in the first place.

We call for the Waste Minimisation Act 2008 to be enacted as it was intended – for the levy to be set at a rate which will effectively reduce waste to landfill and increase recycling; and for comprehensive producer responsibility to be set in place. Just like the rest of the developed world.

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