Our plan for waste

Since becoming Associate Environment Minister with responsibility for waste I have heard loud and clear that New Zealanders want action and I am working hard on measures to significantly reduce waste, including plastic waste.

We have started by phasing out single-use plastic bags.

My next priorities, which I recently announced, are dealing with really tough problems that are now urgent – tackling the increasing volumes of waste going to landfill, increasing diversion from landfill to materials recovery and re-use and getting mandatory product stewardship schemes underway for products like tyres.

We have good law in New Zealand in the Waste Minimisation Act 2008. The previous Government failed over the last decade to use the opportunities it provides to identify priority products and create mandatory stewardship schemes for them so that everyone from producer, retailer to consumer helps reduce the waste associated with end of life products.

I have asked Ministry for the Environment officials to resume work (which failed to progress under the former Government) on developing more mandatory product stewardship schemes to deal with other key waste streams such as e-waste (starting with lithium batteries), and agrichemical containers. I will look at the options for mandatory product stewardship schemes for single-use plastics.

Container deposit schemes have much to recommend them and they are definitely on my radar. The policy work has yet to be done to ensure any container deposit schemes are effective. Catching up after a decade of limited action on waste takes time and there are many priorities in the waste space.

As part of the response to China’s National Sword Initiative, where it has closed its borders to mixed recyclables. MFE experts are identifying priority sectors where waste can be significantly reduced through changes in the supply chain.

We have already been investing in local initiatives that support a circular economy approach through the Waste Minimisation Fund. Examples include Flight Plastics PET processing facility in Lower Hutt. The company reprocesses used PET beverage bottles into other plastic containers which can be repeatedly re-used.

Some businesses – here in New Zealand and globally – are reducing their use of single-use plastics – not only plastic bags but plastic packaging and items such as plastic straws and plastic-stemmed cotton buds. More could follow their lead.

It’s encouraging to see increasing numbers of New Zealanders taking action and using their buying power to call on the stores, brands and food outlets they buy from, to take action to reduce single plastic products and plastic pollution.