This morning, the Associate Minister for the Environment, Eugenie Sage, announced that the Government will consult on a proposal to regulate certain problematic waste streams.

This is one of the most significant steps forward in New Zealand’s waste policy in over a decade.

The consultation will consider whether the Associate Minister for the Environment should declare various products ‘priority products’ under the Waste Minimisation Act 2008. The proposed products are:

  • Tyres
  • Electrical and electronic products
  • Agrichemicals and their containers
  • Refrigerants
  • Farm plastics
  • Packaging (including single-use plastic packaging and beverage containers).

What will this mean for NZ?

Under the Act, any product declared a “priority product” must be regulated by a product stewardship scheme. Product stewardship schemes make manufacturers (and also other groups, like suppliers, retailers and consumers) responsible for any waste and environmental harm their products cause, and for ensuring effective reduction, reuse and recycling of those products.

Currently, New Zealand has no regulated product stewardship schemes, so councils, ratepayers, and the natural environment are picking up the slack for managing all this waste. This is both unfair, and a factor in New Zealand’s comparatively poor recovery and recycling rates and shamefully high per capita rates of waste to landfill.

When manufacturers are responsible for the waste their products cause, they not only foot a greater share of the bill, they’re also more likely to redesign their products to cause less waste in the first place.

We’re very pleased that the Government is proposing to use its powers under the Waste Minimisation Act to regulate some of New Zealand’s most problematic waste streams.

It’s great to see packaging included in the proposal, given significant community concern about this waste stream. The reference to beverage containers is encouraging as it opens the door for a nationwide bottle deposit scheme to be formally considered – something that communities and councils across New Zealand have been campaigning for for decades.

Right now, we recover only 30-40 percent of beverage containers for recycling and reuse, but it doesn’t have to be this way – with a well-designed scheme that figure could be 80-90 percent.

Similarly, New Zealand recovers only 30 percent of used tyres­—compared to 80-90 percent in countries with product stewardship schemes—and only 2 percent of our electronics and electrical products. Almost all farm plastics and agrichemical containers are never recovered – particularly worrying given burying and burning rural waste remains common in New Zealand.

With increasing data revealing that burned and buried farm plastics (e.g. silage wrap) degrades air and water quality and the health of agricultural soils, it is pleasing to see these included as proposed priority products.

Simple measures mentioned in the proposal document, such as including an environmental charge on priority products put on the market, could have big effects on New Zealand’s recycling statistics.

The document also proposes Ministerial guidelines to guide the product stewardship design process. One of these guidelines makes clear that schemes should prioritise activities higher up the waste hierarchy, that is, prevention and reuse, over recycling, recovery, treatment and disposal. This invites product stewardship schemes to promote things like reuse/refill systems or to incentivise product redesign to reduce waste in the first place.

What would the product stewardship schemes look like?

The consultation announced today is focused on what products should be declared “priority products” and on the proposed Ministerial guidelines to be released to guide the product stewardship design process.

The details of each product stewardship schemes, and accompanying regulations, would follow the completion of the consultation process announced today.

The great news is that the consultation document proposes that any product stewardship scheme be co-designed with major stakeholders, including industry, recyclers, local authorities, and community groups representing public interest. The proposal to ensure a wide range of voices are at the design table bodes well for some high-functioning schemes that level the playing field and achieve ambitious waste minimisation targets and wide buy-in.

Make your voice heard!

It’s important to emphasise that the announcement today is only a consultation and we all have work to do to get this over the line.

Although previous Governments held similar consultations in 2009 and 2014, no priority product declarations resulted, despite public submissions overwhelmingly supporting product stewardship schemes.

We can’t afford for this consultation to fall by the wayside as previous consultations have. So, we’re pleased to see that the consultation document proposes that the Government declare the priority products before the year’s end.

We urge all New Zealanders keen to see the Government take action on waste, to participate in the consultation process and make a submission to ensure the community’s voice is heard. You can do so here. Submissions close at 5pm on Friday 4 October 2019.

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