No time to waste

The Waste Management Institute of New Zealand has issued a discussion paper today entitled “Rebooting Recycling – What can Aotearoa Do?” It responds to China’s decision to restrict the imports of 24 different recyclable materials and the impacts this has had on international markets for recyclables.

China’s decision to no longer take responsibility for processing our recyclables is both a challenge and an opportunity. A challenge because with no markets for poor quality recyclables some may end up being stockpiled or landfilled in the short term. And an opportunity because China is showing us that there is no time to waste.

We need a major change in our attitude to waste and our systems. We need more careful stewardship of the resources we take from nature, more re-use or materials, better recycling systems and a reduction in waste to landfill.

Ministry for the Environment officials have been actively engaging with councils, community resource recovery organisations, recycling processors and other stakeholders to develop some short and longer term options to the challenges created by China’s “National Sword” or “Blue Sky” initiative.

We need to invest in more onshore processing of recyclables and at the same time reduce the amount of waste New Zealand generates by accelerating the shift to a circular economy, where valuable and finite resources such as minerals circulate in the economy indefinitely.

There is considerable work already underway, and the current situation in the recycling market confirms the wisdom of shifting to a circular economy.

The Government is using funds from the waste levy on landfills to support progressive businesses and investing in onshore plants for recycling and reuse. The waste levy only applies to 45 of New Zealand’s 426 landfills. That needs to change and the levy needs to increase to encourage more materials to be diverted from landfills and recovered for re-use. Officials are working on mandatory product stewardship schemes for products such as tyres, and the best ways to phase out single use plastic bags. We need a clearer plan for where we are going with waste and work in happening on this.

Businesses have a vital role. When retailers ask for products and manufacturers design and produce them – thinking out the product’s entire lifecycle and designing out waste is critical. We must redesigning supply chains to design in resource recovery and eliminate waste.

New Zealanders and businesses can help immediately by thinking carefully about the stuff they buy; how they plan to use it; how long will it last and then what will happen to it. Encouraging local councils to ensure that glass is collected separately from other recyclables makes re-use easier; so does , washing and separating recyclables and putting them in the right places to be processed. Buying products made from domestically recycled material helps create the supply and demand to support onshore processing.

For information on the circular economy visit