Transitioning to a circular economy where waste is designed out of the system will require major change across industries, both in New Zealand and globally. It will take time. Meanwhile we are taking steps right now that will help us get there.
Initiatives under way
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 investing in onshore recycling facilities.
We will be working with several key sectors, along with partners such as the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, to build a shared understanding of what each sector needs to do to adopt circular economy principles in their operations and supply chains.
We have also set up a taskforce to work alongside local government and the waste and resource efficiency sector to identify solutions in the wake of China’s recent import restrictions on recyclable materials.
We are drawing on shared experience, in particular from Australia, to help us work through the situation in a pragmatic way.
China’s recent import restrictions and the impact on New Zealand
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. National Sword took effect in January 2018 and further bans and import restrictions have been announced by China since then.
Recyclables from around the world that were once sent to China are now being sent to other countries such as Malaysia and Thailand. This has caused prices for recyclables in these markets to drop dramatically. Lower sale prices mean that exporters of recyclables are finding it hard to stay in business.
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 on-shore solutions to our waste.