WasteMINZ’s Disposal to Land Sector Group Steering Committee discusses what needs to happen to improve the effectiveness of the waste disposal levy, and argues that any change needs to be combined with enforceable standards.

Since the introduction of the Waste Disposal Levy’s $10 per tonne rate in 2009, its effectiveness has been a point of contention. The levy is among the lowest in the world, and it is only being applied to approximately 30 per cent of the residual waste stream.  The government has signalled that it is looking at whether to increase the levy and extend its coverage. Therefore, the effectiveness of the levy is an issue that is set to be addressed sooner rather than later. 

A commitment to the circular economy

WasteMINZ’s Disposal to Land Sector Group is fully committed to circular economy principles. We absolutely must keep resources in the economy for as long as possible, extracting the maximum value from them while in use, and then recover and regenerate products and materials at the end of each service life; this is waste minimisation in its purest form. 

The current focus of the Waste Minimisation Act is on the measurement of waste minimisation through the diversion of waste from landfills. While there are undoubtedly benefits to NZ Inc by the targeted diversion of waste from landfills, it’s imperative that it is considered in the context of a holistic view of waste minimisation. 

Ideally, we should not produce that waste in the first place, and then carefully consider the overall environmental footprint of any diversion. The recent challenges experienced in our recycling industry, as a result of changes in Chinese Government policy, are a testament to the fact that some of our current recycling practices are not as sustainable as many have believed.

Our role

The Disposal to Land Sector Group wants to ensure the appropriate disposal pathway for any residual waste materials generated. We see that there may be some challenges ahead as the government considers expanding and increasing the levy. We want to have an open and honest discussion with all parts of the sector about these challenges so that we get nuanced policy and regulation that achieves the outcomes we are all seeking.

Enforceable standards

It is not uncommon internationally to see an increase in inappropriate disposal, illegal dumping or uncontrolled burning of waste when levies are increased or expanded. We saw this here when the levy was first introduced. It has the potential to be more pronounced this time around, depending on the scale of change proposed.

Therefore, it is vital that any change is combined with enforceable standards. One approach could be the development of a National Environmental Standard for Disposal to Land. A potential regulatory response to uncontrolled burning of waste could also be incorporated in the current review of the National Environmental Standards for Air Quality.

Levy-exempt materials

Material received at a landfill that is used as landfill cover is currently exempt from the levy. There are some real challenges with this approach, as there is the potential for waste to be inappropriately classified as cover material and in doing so dodge the levy. One very relevant example is asbestos-contaminated soils. 

As part of the levy review there needs to be a thorough review of what materials are beneficial for reuse for cover, and therefore exempt, as well as what materials we simply shouldn’t consider.

Data security and reporting

We don’t think anyone debates the importance of improving the quality of waste data, thus ensuring better decision making and investment. However, as with the current levy database, careful consideration is required to ensure that the resulting data is securely managed and able to be shared publicly without compromising commercial confidentiality. 

The extent of any reporting will also require careful consideration, as many facilities not currently subject to the levy do not have weighbridges to record incoming waste quantities. There may be additional administrative costs associated with increased levy reporting, so any additional reporting costs need to be weighed against the benefit provided by more consistent and accurate waste data.

We aren’t afraid of change; in fact it’s absolutely necessary, but let’s have an open and honest dialogue about the nuance required. That way we’ll get a result we can be proud of.

To join WasteMINZ Disposal to Land Sector Group email CJ Dooner