Legal framework for waste

This page provides an overview of the legislation and international agreements that provide the legal framework for the New Zealand waste sector.

The legal framework

Waste management and minimisation planning legislation is primarily provided by the following three Acts:

  • the Waste Minimisation Act 2008
  • the Local Government Act 2002
  • the Resource Management Act 1991.

The table below has information on these Acts, other relevant legislation and international agreements.


Waste Minimisation Act 2008

The Waste Minimisation Act encourages a reduction in the amount of waste we generate and dispose of in New Zealand. This to protect the environment from harm and provide environmental, social, economic and cultural benefits.


For more information see the Waste Minimisation Act web page.

Local Government Act 2002 

[New Zealand Legislation website]

The Local Government Act empowers councils to promote the well-being of communities.


The purpose of local government is to:

  • enable democratic local decision-making and action by, and on behalf of, communities
  • promote the social, economic, environmental, and cultural well-being of communities in the present and for the future.

Solid waste collection and disposal is identified as a core service to be considered by a local authority. 

Resource Management Act 1991

The Resource Management Act (RMA) is New Zealand's main piece of environmental legislation and provides a framework for managing the effects of activities on the environment. The RMA controls the environmental impacts of waste facilities such as disposal facilities, recycling plants and cleanfills. 

Litter Act 1979 

[New Zealand Legislation website]

The Litter Act was established to make better provision for the abatement and control of litter. The Act is a basic mechanism for local government to prevent littering.


The functions of the Act include:

  • establishing enforcement officers and litter wardens who may issue fines and abatement notices for litter offences
  • allowing territorial authorities to force the removal of litter
  • allowing public authorities to make by-laws pursuant to the provisions of the Act.

Climate Change Response Act 2002

The Climate Change Response Act 2002 put in place a legal framework to allow New Zealand to ratify the Kyoto Protocol and to meet its obligations under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.


This Act also enables the New Zealand Emissions Trading Scheme (NZ ETS). Operators of disposal facilities have specific obligations under the NZ ETS.

See Climate Change (Waste) Regulations 2010 [New Zealand Legislation website].

Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 [New Zealand Legislation website]


The aim of the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 is to provide for a balanced framework to secure the health and safety of workers and workplaces. The Act contains mechanisms to protect workers and other persons from harm, provide for resolution of workplace health and safety issues, and promote health and safety education.  

Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act 1996

The Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act 1996 (HSNO) and its regulations control the import, manufacture, use and disposal of manufactured chemicals that have hazardous properties.


The HSNO Act prohibits the import or manufacture of a hazardous substance unless it is done under an approval. An approval sets controls (rules) for the substance throughout its lifecycle such as requirements for storage, identification, emergency management and disposal. The approval covers the lifecycle of the substance until it is disposed of according to the controls on the approval (eg, treating it so that it is no longer a hazardous substance or exporting it from New Zealand as a waste).

Ozone Layer Protection Act 1996

New Zealand's commitments under the Montreal Protocol on substances that deplete the ozone layer are contained in the Ozone Layer Protection Act 1996 and the Ozone Layer Protection Regulations 1996.
The Ozone Layer Protection Act lays down the broad controls for ozone-depleting substances.

International agreements

International agreements are legally binding agreements between participating countries. Agreements relevant to the waste sector are to do with reducing, banning and regulating types of waste.


Key agreements

Basel Convention

The 1989 Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal aims to reduce the amount of waste produced by signatories. It also regulates the international traffic in hazardous wastes especially to developing countries.

Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants

The Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants aims to protect human health and the environment by banning the production and use of some of the most toxic chemicals known to humankind.

Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer

The Montreal Protocol sets targets for reducing the production and consumption of ozone-depleting substances. New Zealand's obligations under the Montreal Protocol are implemented through the Ozone Layer Protection Act 1996 and the Ozone Layer Protection Regulations 1996.