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Aotearoa’s free-market waste experiment dumped

Written By: - Date published: 3:00 pm, August 1st, 2020 - 13 comments
Categories: eugenie sage - Tags: , , ,

Environment Minister Eugenie Sage this week announced the beginning of the end of Aotearoa’s unfortunate experiment with free-market waste management that has trashed our environment.

The introduction of the Regulated Product Stewardship Scheme is the beginning of the end of Aotearoa of local councils and taxpayers paying the bill for waste pollution.

Manufacturers, retailers and importers of harmful products such as tyres, plastic packaging and electronics will soon have to start cleaning up their own trash, or pay the price.

“We’ve had a 25-year wait for this policy,” chair of the Zero Waste Network, Marty Hoffart, told RNZ.

“Without regulation, the free-market has not solved our recycling issues.”

The new regulation, under the Waste Minimisation Act, marks a u-turn from the haphazard and ineffective voluntary approach that has been used since the legislation was enacted in 2008.

Aotearoa has had an appalling record on waste management. We produce over 20kg of e-waste a year, about the highest level in the OECD. Based on the households audited, Kiwis use an estimated 1.76 billion plastic containers each year and most end in landfill.

That means the average New Zealand family uses an estimated 37 kilos of plastic containers each year. Some 39 per cent of their plastic bottles and containers are sent to tips despite being fully recyclable. Each house on average uses 188 plastic drink bottles a year and 97 million plastic drink bottles end in dumps annually despite recycling options.

Once upon a time it was out of sight, out of mind for much of waste that was collected, but with China and others now refusing to take our trash, we can no longer wish away our waste, Sage said.

Movement on dealing with waste and turning around the free-market ethos on dealing with it has been painfully slow despite the Green Party being part of government for the first time.

Haffart said Aotearoa’s non-prescriptive approach had left it decades behind the rest of the developed world, including his country of birth, Canada, that has implemented measures such as deposits on bottles since the 1970s.

Adele Rose, CEO of 3R Group – a company that helps tyre companies and packaging companies set up good waste disposal methods, believes this week’s change will be transformational because it moves the cost of waste disposal from consumers and councils rightfully back to the producers, importers and retailers.

“The impact will be huge,” she told RNZ.

“Now the disposal scheme is paid for when you buy the tyre (or product),” said Rose, who is a member of the Product Stewardship Advisory Group.

Regulation will initially only cover six sectors, but they are high priority industries – plastic packaging, e-waste, tyres, farm plastics, agri-chemicals and refrigerants.

Sage said it is all part of the wider plan to cut the amount of rubbish ending up in landfills. She has announced a big hike in the landfill levy rate that will progressively increase over four years from July 1, 2021 from $10 per tonne to $60 per tonne. That is still low against $165 in New South Wales. From the funds collected, the Government plans to put $124 million into plastic recycling and reprocessing plants.

The stewardship scheme will still take three years to fully implement as some sectors get existing voluntary schemes accredited and others go through the scheme design and approval process.

Some industry groups with existing voluntary schemes in place welcome the new regime because it will force free-riders into the scheme. At present, players doing the right thing are essentially penalised. Now, importers and retailers covered by the regulation will have to show evidence that they are part of regulated scheme and they will have to meet the requirements of that scheme.

“The impact will be far-reaching,” Rose reckons.

Rachel Barker, CEO of Plastics NZ, gives a qualified tick to the new regime. Her gripe is that plastic packaging is covered but not all single-use packaging. She argues plastic is light (therefore uses less carbon in transportation) and usually recyclable. Some alternatives, such as laminated cardboard, or even glass, that needs high temperatures in recycling, may be less green. Compostable packaging is often not composed and in landfill simply creates methane.

“Placing a levy on plastics, as is usual with stewardship schemes, will drive producers to alternatives with no view to reduced environmental footprint.”

One of the great side-effects of this regulation, said Rose, is there is now a compelling reason to design products that fit a circular economy by reducing materials inputs and improving recyclability.

She said it won’t be long before the next lot of industries are brought into the regime. “Watch this space.”

Haaffart notes that a Colmar Brunton poll last year put the build-up of plastic above affordable housing as Kiwis’ top concern.

Greenpeace is disappointed the new scheme hasn’t been more far reaching and hasn’t fully tackled the issue of single-use drinks bottles.

Opponents argue the regulations will lead to higher prices for consumers, but estimates for nationwide recovery programmes have suggested extra costs are low. That included $5 per new tyre, $2 for a domestic fridge or $133 on a commercial refrigerated truck, and 36 cents per agrichemical container.

Dr Joya Kemper, a lecturer at the University of Auckland’s School of Marketing, sees the policy as a great step toward creating a “circular economy”.

“In the circular economy, materials should first be recovered for reuse, refurbishment or repair, and if that isn’t possible only then should remanufacturing and then raw material utilisation be used,” she said.

According one major report this year, less than 9 per cent of the global economy was circular, NZ Herald reports.

Last year, Chief Scientist, Dr Juliet Gerrard, investigated plastics use in Aotearoa in a document entitled Rethinking Plastics. Dr Rachel Chiaroni-Clarke, who produced the report, called for a National Plastics Action Plan and in the foreword, Dr Gerrard said there needed to be a systems-change to rethink use of plastics.

It may be just a baby step, but moving away from a failed free-market approach seems a good first step.

(Simon Louisson worked as a journalist for Reuters, the New Zealand Press Association, and The Wall Street Journal among others and worked two stints for the Green Party as a media and political adviser).

13 comments on “Aotearoa’s free-market waste experiment dumped ”

  1. RosieLee 1

    Other countries such as China may well have stopped taking our trash. But we have let them, through their waste companies here, buy up land for landfill dumps. What's that all about?

  2. Draco T Bastard 2

    From the funds collected, the Government plans to put $124 million into plastic recycling and reprocessing plants.

    If they were on their game they'd look at doing the same for e-waste. Harder to recycle but those tonnes of silicon would be worth it – especially if we developed our own silica deposits.

    Opponents argue the regulations will lead to higher prices for consumers

    That's actually a fairly major part of the point. Not having the waste properly accounted for in the price results in a misuse of resources. Opponents of this are, quite literally, arguing for NZ to remain uneconomic.

    “In the circular economy, materials should first be recovered for reuse, refurbishment or repair, and if that isn’t possible only then should remanufacturing and then raw material utilisation be used,” she said.

    Exactly. It should cost more to use new materials than to re-use old ones.

    It may be just a baby step, but moving away from a failed free-market approach seems a good first step.

    A market based system requires heavy regulation so as to ensure proper pricing. Without proper pricing then we end up with a misuse of resources.

    A good example of this is importing from China. In the video that Redlogix linked to the commentator/author points out that China is four or five times less efficient than any Western nation as far as manufactures go. If that's true then products from China should cost four to five times more than anywhere else. The fact that they don't is because the pricing system is wrong.

  3. Dennis Frank 3

    While it's true that this move ought to have been made long ago, it's good to see the Greens making it happen with coalition support.

    Manufacturers, retailers and importers of harmful products such as tyres, plastic packaging and electronics will soon have to start cleaning up their own trash, or pay the price.

    What happens if the new law allows the capitalists to happily pay the cost (having seen that it allows them to coerce consumers into paying it for them via higher prices) and still not do the recycling?? Watch that space.

  4. RedBaronCV 4

    This is a good call – I'm sure there will be some refining of policy needed but we have to start somewhere.
    And lets hope it has enough teeth to to control situations like the Tiwai slag in the old freezing works and the demolition of th e old Patea feezing works

    Frankly when we were in lock down (and buying almost nothing) I was still amazed at how much recycling we were making. Tempted to stake out the kitchen at night just to check it wasn' t actually breeding! Milk containers are actually my biggest contributor. The rest is mostly paper

  5. woodart 5

    YES! long overdue. free market philosophy in NZ with waste and recycling will never, and has never worked. I have been involved with recycling and waste for 40 yrs and have seen the environment trashed and price to consumer balloon. we have seen multiple startups involving tyre recycling, that lead to tyre mountains and bankrupted businesses. our geography and population distribution means that free market is a bust (again). it has to be regulated and gov run and supported to be workable.

  6. In Timaru we are replacing roofs damaged by hail. All the iron goes to the scrap merchant but the plastic spouting goes to the landfill along with the plastic water and waste pipes even tho Marley promotes its products by saying it use's recycled plastic. Raised the issue with the TDC and was told it cost too much to send. Then there is the issue of what goes in the skip on a building site a large part of which is recyclable.

    • greywarshark 6.1

      Interesting about recycling. I got the tip that the edge of cut roofing iron would be the thing for a crack in my woodwork I had to cover. Told where to go, got permission from the plumbing firm to look in their skip, found just the thing. Tacked it in place and mission accomplished. Reusing leftover stuff – we need to do this.

      And remember Rekindle in Christchurch, specialising in using stuff such as wood from Christchurch earthquake rebuilds. They're doing a Waste Free Workshop in September at Sumner https://www.eventfinda.co.nz/2020/waste-free-living-workshop-with-kate-meads4/christchurch

      I'd like a column in the local paper for Recycle stuff, 'Wants and Offers' eg 10 plastic 2l icecream boxes available Ph …. People wanting numbers of garden punnets could get them there. Also handy hints – Use Te Oro jam containers for leftovers, good firm lids and clear space to see what's inside, Anathoth also etc.

      The takeaway I go to would like a suitably priced shallow box with lid to replace the polystyrene one used presently. If the government could set up templates of uniform containers of the desired style agreed by the micro businesses, in suitable material, and encourage all takeaways to use them, then we could get large volumes for a cheaper price.

      Also why can't we compress paper and cardboard into bricks which hospitals could use for hot water heating? The paper and greasy cardboard from pizzas etc could be used for that instead of being rejected for recycling because it is contaminated by the oil.

      And as the Sane Plumber above says, things get thrown away because of the cost of dealing with them. Make it cheaper, give incentives to councils, whoever deals with it from central government. And help businesses that want to make things from stuff.

      About the cost of the rubbish tip in New South Wales, decades ago I was there and asked some friends to take something to the tip and went to give them the fee. They said no, no we'll take it to the bush out back and tip it down the hill. I was good and said no I didn't mind paying, please go to the tip. I don't agree on making everything expensive as a disincentive. It just makes it hard for people who are poor, and it would be nice if the smart people thinking up schemes could keep that in mind, as they are unlikely to have had the experience of being in a frazzled condition with multiple problems, as most of the lower income strata.

  7. barry 7

    Long overdue.

    How does the new regime cope with online ordering? A lot of stuff from Amazon etc comes over-packaged and there is no option for them to pick it up at end of life.

  8. Peter t 8

    Meantime, "154,000 plastic bottles per hour over a period of 25 years". Never mind the water!


  9. novacastrian 9

    What planet is Adele Rose orbiting, it's clearly not the same planet as the rest of us if she believes manufacturers and importers shall absorb cost responsibility.

    Price loading will occur, whilst the consumer once again has their wallet plundered once again.

    As for Ms Roses company, 3R, one questions if their commitment is truely to the environment, or just puerile manufactured corporate greed in green window dressing. Hmmm, they seem to be pushing many an enviro agenda, only to find they are the ones who shall ultimately profit dollar wize.

  10. Ken 10

    So we pay China to send us a whole heap of plastic junk and disposable crap, and then we pay China to bury this garbage in our pristine wilderness valleys?

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