You are here

Waste and Government

The Government's work programme for taking action on New Zealand’s waste through a circular economy approach.

The work programme focuses on the following initiatives

  • The Ministry has work underway to form a plan to phase out low value and hard to recycle plastic packaging.
  • Design of a New Zealand beverage container return scheme
  • Expanding the waste disposal levy (landfill levy) to more of New Zealand’s landfills and improving our data on waste. We asked for submissions from the public on our proposals for a more effective levy.  Find out more.
  • Improve kerbside and commercial recycling, reduce contamination of recyclables so more materials can be recovered, and increase onshore processing of plastics and other materials
    For information on what the Government has announced see Plan to recharge recycling (10 May 2019) [Beehive website]
  • Analysing where investment in innovation and resource recovery infrastructure is most needed to support New Zealand’s transition to a circular economy approach.
  • Implementing product stewardship schemes for problematic waste streams including vehicle tyres, e-waste (starting with lithium-ion batteries), agrichemicals and synthetic greenhouse gases. See the recent consultation: Reducing harm from waste - product stewardship.
  • Developing a national circular economy strategy, starting with priority sectors where the greatest benefits can be gained from transitioning to a circular economy approach.

For more information read Waste work programme to tackle tough problems (19 August 2018) [Beehive website]

Other recent initiatives

The Government is also working on the following.

Improving recycling

The Government has announced its plan to improve recycling by accepting the recommendations of the National Resource Recovery Taskforce and feedback from the sector. 

  1. Identify the gaps in materials recovery and waste infrastructure where investment is needed.
  2. Review kerbside collection and processing systems to identify how to increase the quality of recyclables and to ensure more materials can be recovered and recycled instead of going to landfill. 
  3. Undertake feasibility studies around how to increase New Zealand’s fibre (paper and cardboard) processing and plastic reprocessing capacity.
  4. Examine how product stewardship for packaging can be used to ensure manufacturers consider what happens to packaging once a product is used by the consumer.
  5. Assess the options for shifting away from low value and difficult to recycle plastics, such as single use plastic bags and other low volume and/or mixed materials. This could include regulations around ensuring plastic packaging is able to be recycled and/or to require a portion of recycled content in packaging.
  6. Run an education campaign to help New Zealanders “recycle right”, and reduce the amount of recyclable materials going to landfill because of contamination.
  7. Develop model contracts for the sector to reduce contamination, increase transparency and to better accommodate fluctuations in market prices for recyclable materials. 
  8. Develop a sustainable procurement plan and guidelines to encourage purchase of products made of recovered and recycled materials.

This work has been initiated in partly in response to the Chinese Government’s ban on the import of many recycling materials.

For more information see:

Proposals for short to medium term responses to national sword

National Resource Recovery Project situational analysis report

National Resource Recovery Taskforce: New Zealand's options in response to effects created by the implementation of the National Sword Policy

Investing in projects that will help design waste out of the system

The Government is using funds raised from the Waste Disposal Levy to invest in projects that will help design waste out of the system.

This includes:

  • exploring opportunities for investing in onshore resource recovery facilities
  • exploring new business models to keep materials circulating within the economy
  • fostering innovation to support the transition to a circular economy approach.

Working with industry to cut plastic waste

In October 2018 the New Zealand Government became a signatory to the New Plastics Economy Global Commitment, an initiative led by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and UN Environment to address the root causes of plastic waste and pollution. The Global Commitment brings together governments, businesses and NGOs around the world to commit to adopting circular economy approach to plastics with key targets in place for 2025.

As a step towards this, we have worked with 15 local and multi-national companies to sign the New Zealand Plastic Packaging Declaration, a joint commitment to use 100 per cent reusable, recyclable or compostable packaging in their New Zealand operations by 2025 or earlier.

Ban on single-use plastic shopping bags 

The Government has banned single-use plastic shopping bags from 1 July. The ban covers all retailers and means that businesses will no longer be able to provide customers with a single-use plastic shopping bag if under a certain thickness. This also includes bags that are made of degradable plastic (ie, biodegradable, compostable and oxo-degradable). 

The ban will stop millions of single-use plastic shopping bags from entering the environment each year. This will benefit our waterways, ocean and wildlife. 

For more information see Plastic bag ban.

Changes to commodity prices for recyclable materials

The Government has set up a taskforce to work alongside local government and the waste and resource efficiency sector to identify solutions where prices have reduced for the recyclable materials we collect.

In 2017, China introduced a set of policies (referred to as the ‘National Sword’) which banned or restricted the import of a number of different products including low-quality plastics. The policy took effect in January 2018 and further bans and import restrictions have been announced since then.

Recyclables from around the world are now being sent to other countries such as Malaysia and Thailand. Prices for recyclables in international markets have dropped dramatically. Lower sale prices mean that exporters of recyclables are facing significant financial pressure.

This situation has highlighted that we cannot rely on the international market to take our low-value recyclable material. We must raise the quality of what is collected and how it is processed so we can provide higher-quality recyclables for sale. In the medium to long term we need to build more on-shore processing solutions.

We are drawing on shared experience, in particular from Australia, to help us work through the situation in a pragmatic way.