E mihi ana ki te rangi

E mihi ana ki te whenua

E mihi ana ki ngā maunga

E mohi ana ki ngā moana

E mihi ana ki ngā manawhenua Ngāti Wairere

Koutou ngā uri kua huihui mai nei

Tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā tatou katoa

Thanks Ross (Ross Holden, MC) and greetings to all. In particular I want to acknowledge WasteMINZ’s chair Darren Patterson, WasteMINZ board members, CEO Janine Brinsdon and the team, and all 500 delegates to this the 31st annual WasteMINZ conference. 

And what an amazing event. I want to congratulate WasteMINZ for your mana, voice of authority and many years of leadership on waste, resource recovery, behaviour change, product stewardship, health and safety and contaminated land issues.

Congratulations for putting together a wide ranging conference programme, which allows so many people interested in waste issues to come together to kōrero, connect, engage, learn and plan… undoubtedly have a great time too.

The theme of this conference is Toitū te whenua whatungarongaro he tangata – the land remains after the people.

To which I respond: manaaki whenua, manaaki tangata, haere whakamua. Care for the land, care for the people. And let us go forward together.

This is the philosophy that has guided me and the dedicated and energetic waste team in the Ministry for the Environment in our work since last year’s WasteMINZ conference.

We see school students making powerful calls for action to protect te taiao and the planet. Greta Thunberg’s address to the United Nations; the school strikes for climate – around the world and in Aotearoa on Friday. The demand is for urgent action to protect the climate and the Earth’s life support systems.

Waste and plastic are part of these big environmental, social and economic challenges.

Here in Aotearoa we’ve seen a massive shift in the public’s mood on waste. New Zealanders are increasingly concerned about the environmental impacts of plastics and waste in general.

In an independent survey done for the Ministry of the Environment last year, respondents saw dealing with waste as the second most pressing issues facing our country. Poverty being number one.

Incredibly, New Zealand is currently one of the highest producers, per capita, of municipal waste in the OECD. We are punching well above our weight but in the wrong direction.

On the first of July this year the Government’s ban on single use shopping bags came into effect, with many retailers having shown them the door months before. There was wide public support for this move, and consumers continue to demand more action.

Both the public and the media are highly engaged in the waste issues. I regularly receive letters from school students and members of the public about plastic pollution. People are much more aware of the need to change habits and to reduce waste at home, work, crèche, school and events.

It is a challenge to us – as government, councils, manufacturers, retailers, operators in the resource recovery and waste management sector, community organisations and as citizens of planet Earth to make that change on the scale and at the rate required.

This morning I’d like to provide a brief overview of what we are doing as a government to shift to a circular economy – an approach that designs waste out of our system, honours nature and its role in sustaining people and our wellbeing.

Circular Economy

We are on the edge of a paradigm shift away from the single-use, take, make and dispose model – towards a low emissions, circular economy where we take carefully from nature, make stuff, use it, then recover materials from it so they can be reused, remade or recycled – to keep valuable resources in the supply chain.

This is not just about mitigating the environmental impacts of waste. It is an important broader economic shift as well.

There are four waste related workstreams supporting this kaupapa.

The waste disposal or landfill levy

Although only 11 percent of landfills are subject to the waste disposal levy, it has raised significant revenue to support waste minimisation. Nearly $300 million has been collected since the Waste Minimisation Act become law in 2008. Around half of this has gone to councils to implement their own waste minimisation initiatives. The balance in grants through the Waste Minimisation Fund funding has allowed business, community organisations and council to drive innovation and promote behaviour change in their communities to reduce waste.

Policy work is underway on proposals, to expand and increase the landfill levy because the current rate – at $10 per tonne – and only applying to 11% of landfills and around 40% of our waste is really too low to incentivise waste minimisation and resource recovery. Subject to Cabinet approval, public consultation is planned later this year.

As part of this workstream the Ministry for the Environment is currently doing a lot of work to help identify any classify all landfills, in addition to the Class 1 landfills used for municipal waste. This will prepare for the potential application of the levy system to these landfills in the future. Work is also being done to identify the types of waste data we need to collect, to better inform decision-making.

I encourage all WasteMINZ members to engage with the levy conversation when the time comes – I understand it will be the focus of a session and panel discussion later this morning.

Strategic investment

For the recent 2019 Waste Minimisation Fund round we set strategic investment signals to help attract innovative projects that would provide broad benefits for our country. These are:

  • To move New Zealand to a circular economy
  • Encourage product stewardship
  • Build a more resilient recovery sector
  • Develop a sustainable plastics lifecycle

The investment signals are linked with initiatives to make a difference to the way we manage waste.

One of the most high-profile fund recipients in recent times has been Flight Plastics, which received $3m towards their $7m project to introduce the first Recycled PET wash and flake technology in New Zealand.

From this Flight Plastics has been able to create recycled food grade PET packaging – demonstrating circular resource use that it would be good to see for all our recyclable plastics.

Another recipient is Mint Innovation, which received $600,000 from the Waste Minimisation Fund to develop a novel process to mine electronic waste and extract precious metals like gold.

If a levy on only 11 per cent of landfills can fund these with more than 200 other innovative projects and technology over the past decade, imagine what we could do with increased levels of investment. The levy expansion conversation is also about developing a strategic investment plan to identify the priorities for investing levy revenue to grow the infrastructure for materials recovery and reprocessing, encourage behaviour change and ramp up waste avoidance and minimisation.

National resource recovery

The impact of China’s National Sword hit home in February 2018 and has seen significant impacts on the sector. Many of the underlying issues in our resource recovery sector were there well before. There is no silver bullet or quick fix here.

Earlier this year I announced a comprehensive plan to help recharge New Zealand’s resource recovery and recycling sector, as part of our response to China’s ban. The actions were developed and tested with the help of some of the experts from councils and industry here today.

All recommendations of the 2018 national resource recovery taskforce are to be implemented over the next three years. Including one which has not yet been announced. But more about that in a minute…

It is abundantly clear we can no longer wish our waste away, out of sight and out of mind to foreign destinations, or even domestic ones for that matter, as the Fox River landfill showed.

The combination of China and the recent Basel Agreement is now slowly pulling up the drawbridge on the some 40,000 tonnes of plastic waste leaving New Zealand’s shores every year. Prices for mixed fibre have plummeted, and the Australians have proposed a ban on recycling exports!

Our world and sector are changing fast. The Government has a role to play in adaptation and avoiding waste, but we obviously can’t do this alone. Working with the sector is important.

For example, part of the national resource recovery work programme involves assessing how we shift away from low value and difficult to recycle plastics. I know businesses and organisations like Foodstuffs, Countdown and organisations such as Plastics NZ and Packaging Forum are already active on these issues. So Government’s work in this space will seek to understand and draw on that technical expertise to help shape it into workable solutions for New Zealand.

Other work is to identify the gaps in our materials recovery and waste infrastructure to determine where future investment is needed and to review kerbside collection and processing systems to increase the quality of recyclables and ensure that more materials can be recovered and in fact recycled.

Feasibility studies around how to increase New Zealand’s processing capacity for fibre and plastic are also planned.

Product Stewardship

In August I announced a public consultation document on product stewardship, looking at which products will be declared “priority products” under the Waste Minimisation Act and setting out criteria for establishing regulated schemes. Submissions close next Friday on 4 October.

Product stewardship is all about designing environmental harm out of products and improving incentives for recovery and recycling. It’s about producers, brand owners, importers, retailers, consumers, collectors, and re-processers all taking responsibility for a product’s life-cycle impacts.

Over the last ten years, we have seen exemplary efforts by industry and community leaders to minimise waste within a completely voluntary product stewardship framework. Local councils have used their half share of the waste levy to actively support local waste diversion. Some businesses have used accredited product stewardship schemes to divert their end-of-life products, such as used oil, from waste or harm. The voluntary approach has, however only diverted small volumes from landfill, more ambitious action is needed.  

That’s why Government is proposing that six challenging product streams be declared as “priority products”:

  • Tyres
  • Electrical and electronic products
  • Agrichemicals and their containers
  • Refrigerants and other synthetic greenhouse gases
  • Farm plastics
  • Packaging – including beverage containers

Regulated schemes for these products have been effective overseas in a number of forms, but not tried here before. But with your support, that is about to change.

Because today I am truly delighted to announce that the Government is funding work to begin a co-design process for a New Zealand beverage container return scheme.

With around 2 billion single use beverage containers consumed in New Zealand every year, this will be a scale of product stewardship not seen here before. When implemented it will have a significant impact on our nation’s waste, because each year as many as half of those containers are not recycled.

What we are announcing today is an agreement to start the investigation and design stage for a CRS – or container return scheme – learning from the best international models but designed to meet New Zealand’s geographic and societal needs. This is the latest step in the Government’s plan to recharge New Zealand’s recycling system.

I want a container return scheme to change the way New Zealanders see beverage containers. They will again become something of value, and we will see increased recycling and new opportunities for refilling.

Such schemes require beverage containers – such as plastic PET bottles – to carry a refundable deposit, for example 10 to 20 cents (or more). When consumers recycle their drink bottles, they’ll get a deposit back, which incentivises higher recycling rates.

Returning to the estimated two billion glass, plastic, aluminium paperboards and other single use container which are used each year in New Zealand. Some are recovered and recycled. Too many others end up as litter on streets and in streams, the beach and other public spaces or at landfills. We can do so much better. The scheme could lift recovery rates from 45-58% to 80% or more.

There are now at least 40 CRS schemes operating globally. Most Australian states have a CRS, as do parts of Europe and the United States. Internationally some container return schemes have achieved over 90% recovery rates, Germany has even attained close to 99%

Can I acknowledge Auckland Council and Marlborough District Council. In May this year the Ministry for the Environment received a joint application to the Waste Minimisation Fund for the design and development of a national CRS from these two councils.

The application has been successful so these two councils will work with the Ministry for the Environment and representatives from the beverage, packaging and recycling industries, councils, retailers, charitable organisations, Māori, consumer representatives, and product stewardship groups with the aim of delivering a national CRS design proposal to Government before August 2020.

Cabinet will then decide whether to proceed and develop regulations under the Waste Minimisation Act to support a regulated scheme.

In developing New Zealand’s own CRS, the project will look at scheme design overseas, the latest technology, how to best encourage new innovation to optimise performance, opportunities to invest in remanufacturing and regional development, alignment with Te Ao Māori and potential benefits in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

As well as minimising waste and increasing recycling, the project aims to:

  • make it easier and convenient to return beverage containers across New Zealand
  • design a solution that is cost effective and efficient
  • improve quality and marketability of recyclables
  • create new opportunities for jobs, community participation and fund-raising for social enterprises and charitable organisations.

One of the considerations in designing a CRS will be how it will affect existing kerbside collections – the types and amounts of recyclables collected.

Citizens, councils and stakeholder have been calling a well-designed scheme for some time. Thank you for all the groundwork many in this room have put in and the advocacy which has got us to this announcement today. Thank you for your hard work and being a voice for change. I am pleased to say that this design project has my full backing and has been endorsed by Cabinet. I look forward to receiving the recommendations from this process next year.

Basel Convention

The last thing I want to touch on and another important initiative is the recent global decision to better manage the international trade of low value mixed and contaminated waste under the Basel Convention. The decision was agreed to by 187 countries, including New Zealand, in May this year.

The decision comes into effect on 1 January 2021 and exporters will be required to get consent from importing countries before they can export most mixed and/or contaminated plastic waste.

This will affect the resource recovery sector, and our exporters, as it will make it more difficult to export low value and hard to recycle plastics.

On the other hand, it will incentivise trade in high quality, sorted and clean plastic waste. Once again, an opportunity for our recyclers and producers to get ahead of the trend.

Officials from the Ministry for the Environment are providing Ministers with advice on how to implement the Basel decision in New Zealand.

Finally, I would like to end by embracing this conference’s theme – Toitū te whenua whakungarongaro he tangata – the land remains when the people have gone, which tells us we must take a long view.

This whakatauki is grounded in Mātauranga Māori, which is compatible with the circular economy narrative. The essence of the whakatauki is that the whenua has its own mauri, is enduring, and must be respected. 

We will be here but a short time, while the land will be here forever and ever; therefore we need to have a restorative relationship with nature around us. 

That is my challenge to you here today.

Kia ora koutou katoa