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Why reducing, reusing and recycling matter

Why we need to care

Today’s linear approach to the use of resources is seeing landfills fill up and our environment polluted by all of the discarded stuff we no longer need or want.

Products also have significant impacts on climate, ecosystems, water, air and communities. These impacts are not visible when we purchase a product and they often happen in other countries. However when we use products for short periods of time and dispose of them to landfill we are putting pressure on our planet's systems. We are also wasting valuable resources that could be recovered and reused.  

Fortunately, New Zealanders do care about reducing the amount of waste that we produce and its impacts on our environment and way of life. In a recent survey for the Ministry by research company Colmar Brunton, 50 per cent of New Zealanders said they were either very or extremely worried about the impacts of waste.

Did you know? 

  • On a per capita basis New Zealanders sent 730.6 kg of urban waste to landfill in 2016, see Municipal waste indicator [OECD website]. This made us one of the highest generators of household waste in the OECD.
  • In many parts of New Zealand litter pollutes city and rural landscapes, waterways and marine environments. Litter not only affects our enjoyment of the outdoors it has impacts for our economy as well (eg, tourism) and the health of ecosystems.
  • Plastic is a major form of pollution in New Zealand and worldwide. Microplastics for instance, which are tiny pieces of plastic, can harm marine life and may affect life higher on the food chain including humans. A University of Canterbury study has revealed that our shores have comparable concentrations of microplastics to overseas. See High levels of microplastics found on NZ coast [University of Canterbury website]
  • We produce some of the world’s highest volumes of e-waste (electronic equipment such as cell phones, laptops and televisions) see Global E-Waste Monitor 2017 [United Nations University Vice Rectorate in Europe, Sustainable Cycles (SCYCLE) Programme website].
  • We send over 122,000 tonnes of food to landfill annually. Food waste makes a significant contribution to the waste sector’s greenhouse gas emissions (which in turn account for around 5 per cent of New Zealand’s overall greenhouse gas emissions). See New Zealand’s Greenhouse Gas Inventory for more information.
  • Landfills cost millions of dollars to develop and often the sites cannot be used for other purposes for decades – and they produce methane which is a potent greenhouse gas.

What we are doing about it

Many New Zealanders are already taking action to reduce their waste. But as a country we need to do more.

We can each start by:

  • thinking about environmental impacts of products before we buy
  • cutting down on single-use plastics and packaging
  • reusing what we have
  • buying products that are made from recycled materials and are recyclable
  • wasting less food
  • composting and recycling more.

The recent import restrictions on waste and recyclables introduced by China show that we cannot rely on other countries to help solve our waste problem. For information on what the Government has announced see the media release Plan to recharge recycling from Associate Minister for the Environment Hon Eugenie Sage.  

To tackle the problem we are working towards a circular economy approach. This means taking resources carefully from nature and ensuring the products we make are designed so that the resources in them can be reused indefinitely. Ultimately we need to design waste, pollution and greenhouse gas emissions out of the system.

Find out more

What you can do to reduce the amount of resources you use, reuse and recycle

About the Circular economy approach