New Zealand's 29-year waste plan 'worrying'

The Government is opening up feedback on its plan for the future of New Zealand's waste – with a 29-year timeline that has been called "worrying", with fears it pushes responsibility for the country's waste onto the next generation. 

It comes as the Government launches another consulation period on dealing with problematic materials - this time old tyres and EV batteries. 

Activist Niamh Peren told 1News the title of the plan was "about taking responsibility".

"Yet who are we taking responsibility for and when are we going to take responsibility of our own waste?

"We need urgent and actionable change now."

She said New Zealand needed a strategy "that is effective and efficient and actually goes to the core of the problem straight away". 

New Zealand is one of the highest generators of waste in the world - with each Kiwi producing on average 750 kilograms a year of rubbish that goes to landfill. 

Environment Minister David Parker said that New Zealand urgently needed to change the way waste is managed, saying everyone had a role to play. 

Miami - December 6, 2017: Consumer trash from fast-food chains, drinks brands, and plastic water bottles overflows from a public garbage can on the street outside Art Basel Miami Beach art fair.

"We can do better, and New Zealanders are demanding change."

Parker said the Government was committed to building a low carbon, circular economy. 

That would see Aotearoa moving from a 'linear' system, where a product is used and discarded to landfill, to a 'circular economy', also known as a make, use and return system. 

He was looking for feedback on the  new waste strategy  "that sets a bold new direction for the next three decades". 

"The strategy will also set targets to reduce total waste volumes, methane emissions from waste, and litter by 2030."

It sets out New Zealand's waste strategy in three stages – the first is 'catching up' for the next nine years, which includes "sowing the seeds for transformational change" and bringing New Zealand up to global standards. 

From 2030, called – 'pushing ahead', it includes widespread changes and major efforts in moving to a circular economy, and then 2040 to 2050 is 'embedding a new normal' of a circular economy.

A 2050 deadline and a plan that doesn't address pressing environmental issues places the problem on the next generation, says activist Niamh Peren.  

Peren brought a petition with almost 50,000 signatures in support to Parliament two-years-ago on the issue , calling for clear, compulsory recycling labelling on all food and drink packaging. 

Only plastics 1 and 2 are generally able to be recycled onshore through councils, with soft plastic recycling available in only a few areas around the country.

"It just means somewhere, some place in the world it can be recycled," Peren said at the time. "That's flawed and it's wrong."

New Zealand sends about 20 million tonnes of plastic waste overseas each year, to a value of about $6m. 

Peren said the Government's consultation document "doesn't actually point out we will stop sending our waste overseas, it also doesn't create a framework for all 67 district and city councils that actually create a unified waste and recycling strategy, so we can actually design waste out of the system". 

"We should not be sending it overseas, we should not be investing in linear systems, we should be creating a circular economy and circular strategy, and we're not," Peren told 1News. 

She said it was "worrying the Government is looking to create a strategy for a world that is as far away as 2050". 

While Peren said it was a victory to get to this point, she said much of the document looked at dealing with a product when it was waste, rather than designing it out of the system.  

"We have the means to create a circular economy today, we have the means to create a circular economy yesterday. We have the means to make actionable impact, but we haven't."

"It shouldn't take 29 years."

Plans to tackle New Zealand's waste have been mulled over for years, with the ban on PVC meat trays, polystyrene takeaway packaging, degradable plastic products and plastic cotton buds only coming into force late next year. 

Plastic tableware and straws are out from mid-2023, and all other PVC packaging is banned from mid-2025. 

In July last year, the Government announced it was "stepping up action" after consultation in 2019, pledging to create stewardship schemes to properly recover, re-use, recycling or disposal harmful products, such as tyres and e-waste. 

Last week, the Government announced it was consulting on stewardship schemes of tyres and large batteries – adding it would be consulting on farm waste and refrigerants late next year. 

Parker promised there would be steps taken to address action on coffee cups and wet wipes – but a decision would only be made next year. 

Parker last week launched a $50m plastics innovation fund last week, to "help support projects that re imagine how we make, use and dispose of plastics".