Today the waste levy, a part of the Greens’ Waste Minimisation Act, comes into force. The levy will be $10 per tonne of material sent to landfill, and the revenue will go into waste minimisation projects.
You might be thinking that in a recession we need another government imposed levy like Jeanette needs a new Hummer, right? But rather than being an additional tax, the new levy shifts cost onto the producers of waste and away from ratepayers and the environment. It’s smart economics.
As Metiria puts it, “It’s a ‘polluter-pays so people-save’ solution – the public will have more opportunities to recycle, we will pay less rates for landfills, and our environment will be improved.”
It’s worth noting that we have lagged behind other countries in adopting a pricing instrument to encourage waste minimisation, and at $10 per tonne our levy is pretty modest. In the UK, you’d pay a landfill tax of NZ$120 per tonne, in Denmark, its NZ$105, in Sweden its NZ$86. The Scandinavian countries in particular have experienced significantly higher recycling and reduced landfilling as a result.
And that’s exactly what we hope to achieve with the levy and the raft of other tools in the Waste Minimisation Act. We have to think boldly if we are going to tackle the 3.2 million tonnes of waste that we throw in the landfill every year.
The Minister for the Environment has said that the waste levy is an incentive-based approach that fits neatly into the BlueGreens preferred way to increase recycling rates. Hence the Bill was supported unanimously in the final vote, and despite pressure from ACT, the new Government has implemented the Act.
So how will it work? Basically half goes to councils to develop additional waste minimisation projects. This might mean kerbside recycling can be introduced in areas where it’s not currently available. Councils will be able to diversify into collecting and recycling new waste streams, such as kitchen and green waste, or e-waste.
The remaining 50% (minus some administration costs) will go into a new contestable Waste Minimisation Fund, and will be available for other waste minimisation projects run by councils, community groups and private sector. We’re pretty excited about the possibilities for this Fund. The Greens have proposed that a proportion of the new Fund should be set aside for community projects, because community recycling operators are committed to a zero waste future, and have a proven track record of developing low cost and innovative schemes that protect their local environment and create local jobs. Research has shown that the community recycling model returns significantly more money to the local economy that nationally or internationally owned private companies. And there’s ample Green New Deal job-creation opportunity in the community sector.
Now what is needed is for the government to get bold in implementing the rest of the Act, particularly Product Stewardship. When manufacturers and retailers take responsibility for the life-cycle of their products, by redesigning them to create less waste, and by putting in place systems to take back products for recycling and reprocessing, both the producer and consumer have more options to avoid the levy. Product stewardship and a levy are complementary.
So we’re celebrating the start of a new era today, one where the cost of waste disposal is borne by the producer of the waste, and one that will provide impetus and much needed resourcing for waste minimisation.