On Wednesday, the government announced it will use the Waste Minimisation Fund to finance a programme to deal with a type of hazardous waste from material that was banned from use in New Zealand nearly 10 years ago. While we absolutely agree with cleaning up hazardous waste we do have some concerns about who does it.
Since 2004, the manufacture, import or use of Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs) – found primarily in old electrical equipment – has been prohibited in New Zealand. However there is legacy waste that still needs to be collected and disposed of in a safe way. So the government has allocated $550,000 to Transpacific, an overseas-owned company, to make sure it happens.
Clearly there is money to be made in the safe disposal of hazardous waste, but instead of New Zealanders getting the profits, the profits are going off shore.
The Waste Minimisation Fund is an initiative of the Greens’ Waste Minimisation Act that was introduced in 2008, and it was envisaged that the fund, which is collected from a levy of $10 on every tonne of waste that goes to landfill, would be used to increase innovation in the waste/recycling sector, create jobs and help build the New Zealand economy.
The Greens maintain the Waste Minimisation Fund should be used to assist smaller New Zealand businesses rather than be allocated to large foreign-owned companies. In the case of hazardous waste, Transpacific seems to have taken over the market. And while we acknowledge there may be no New Zealand firms that could do the job, we believe that for many other waste products, it points to a failure of the government to invest in local solutions and local businesses.
The government could create an integrated system to deal with waste, but instead are dealing piecemeal with specific legacy issues. The TV Takeback is another example. The government is subsidising the recycling of analogue TVs without a plan for how the newly purchased TVs will be dealt with when people replace them in four years.
It’s time the government tackled the issue of mandatory product stewardship, where we ensure that products are responsibly recycled at the end of life, rather than leaving it to the market and subsidies from the Waste Minimisation Fund.