Saturday, November 27

Environmental advocate says government should focus on supply chain for waste reduction

The government’s ideas to reduce waste have been programmed as a band-aid and a missed opportunity.

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File photo.
Photo: 123RF

He wants public comment on his new waste strategy.

New Zealand is one of the largest generators of waste per person in the world – we each ship three-quarters of a ton each year and we are getting worse.

Waste accounts for 4 percent of this country’s climate gas emissions and nearly a tenth of our biogenic methane, and the Climate Change Commission has set a goal to reduce waste-related biogenic methane emissions by 40 percent by 2035.

The government has released its consultation paper to try to address this, pledging to build a circular economy by 2050 and setting targets for waste reduction by 2030.

But Sue Coutts of Zero Waste Network said the plan lacked the bold steps necessary to prevent companies from generating wasteful products in the first place.

“At the moment, that document seems to focus on treating the material at the end of its useful life.

“So you know, ‘pick up some more trash,’ ‘put things in the right bin,’ and that’s really not going to get us where we need to go.

“We have to immediately get back up the supply chain and start influencing what kinds of products are made and how they are distributed to us.”

The government is focusing on six priority areas for “product stewardship”: holding producers accountable for the end-life of their products.

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Photo: Ministry of the Environment

These include tires, plastic packaging, electronics, agrochemicals and their packaging, refrigerants, and agricultural plastics.

Coutts said this list needed to be vastly expanded.

“Right now, someone can put a package on the market today and [tomorrow] Waste pickers say ‘oh man, what do we do with this?’

“And if you go to a producer and say, ‘we need you to change your system,’ they say, ‘that could take us three or four years to do that.’

Coutts wanted the government to commit to establishing an entity charged with working with producers, recyclers, the local and central government to reach zero waste.

Harry Burkhardt, Managing Director of Packaging New Zealand, which represents big manufacturers like Fonterra and Tetra Pak, said product stewardship was far from a silver bullet.

“If the government wants to put [product stewardship] on, [they can] fill your boots.

“But we don’t think that’s going to change the dial, the responsibility actually falls on all of us. No [just] the producers of the packaging are also the users of the packaging, and it is also the regulatory framework in which that packaging is used. “

Burkhardt said society and consumers could be reluctant to cost increases from true product life cycle accounting.

He said the tradeoffs needed to commit to the circular economy were not sufficiently addressed in the consultation paper.

WasteMINZ has over 1,000 members from across the waste industry, including recyclers, tip operators, and local government.

Its CEO, Janine Brinsdon, said the most exciting development in the document was the broad commitment to the circular economy.

“If we can start to make MBIE and MPI and some of those other agencies and ministries of all governments think about the circular economy, then that is new.

“That would be incredibly powerful and exciting.”

Green Party MP Eugenie Sage, who was Associate Minister for the Environment in the previous legislature, said good progress was made by banning single-use plastic bags and microbeads in cosmetics. It stepped up work on tires, e-waste, and the initiation of a beverage container take-back plan.

She wants efforts to take advantage of that work accelerated, including a nationally standardized recycling scheme, and plans to ban food and organic waste from most landfills by 2030.

“In Christchurch, we have had curbside collection of organic and green waste for about a decade that is composted, and there is a high demand for that compost.

“We can help solve water pollution by nitrates through the use of synthetic fertilizers by using more compost, and that means that municipalities collect green waste and food scraps.”

The consultation will last six weeks until November 26, 2021.

What are product stewardship schemes?

Product stewardship schemes signify the responsibility and cost of a product’s life cycle and remain with manufacturers, importers, retailers, and users, rather than falling on communities, councils, and nature.

Internationally, product stewardship schemes are important tools for the transition to a circular economy.

Schemes generally work by requiring a fee to be paid when a product first enters the market. The fees are held in a fund and used to ensure that products are recycled or safely treated as part of disposal. Some schemes require retailers and others to return products or packaging.

The report said the government was looking to improve legislative support for the schemes.

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