Speech to WasteMINZ conference, Hamilton

Credit: Original article can be found here

Tena koutou katoa and thank you all for being here and welcoming me to your annual conference.

I want to acknowledge being here in Tainui’s rohe, and the mana of Kingi Tuheitia.

I hate waste. So much so that when we built our home in Dunedin, I banned the use of a skip.

Instead, I got a resource consent from the council for the clean fill from the excavations for our house to go to a friend’s property, where it was used for landscaping.

Waste concrete was re-crushed and used again.

Cardboard was collected in old wool bales and sent for recycling.

And we convinced the building supplies company just down the hill from us that materials being delivered to our site didn’t have to be wrapped in metres and metres of plastic. 

I’m not telling you this to show off, but to say that it’s always worth trying to find ways of avoiding creating waste, of finding a use for the waste that you do create, and of being responsible in the way you get rid of any waste you haven’t got another use for.

The old reduce-reuse-recycle.

Or as we say these days, the low-emissions, low-waste circular economy.

People “get” the waste problem.

Ever since David Attenborough showed us pictures of an albatross trying to feed bits of plastic to its chicks, waste has been at or near the forefront of New Zealanders’ minds.

The build-up of plastics in the environment came in at number seven again in this year’s Kantar poll of our top-ten concerns, and plastics in the ocean made it into the list for the first time.

And we’ve got a doozy of a waste problem to kick.

On a per capita basis, we New Zealanders are among the most wasteful people in the world, each sending an average 664 kilograms of waste to landfills a year.

Between 2010 and 2018, the amount of municipal waste being dumped increased by a whacking 46 per cent.

And while the tide seems to have turned and there is now a bit less municipal waste being sent to landfills, we have a long way to go.

New Zealand households recycle only a third of their waste, compared to two-thirds in other countries similar to ours.

The problem is we’re not set up for it.

We’re trying to operate a circular economy on a linear-economy infrastructure.

Since coming into Government in late 2017, we’ve been working on turning that around.

I want to acknowledge former Associate Environment Minister Eugenie Sage – particularly for her work in getting to grips with the scale of the waste problem in New Zealand, and doing the ground work on how we can deal with it.

Environment Minister David Parker picked that up, and in March released a waste strategy that really is a new era for New Zealand’s waste system.

It responds to the strong call from the waste management sector and local authorities for a clear, long-term national direction.

It provides the certainty you need to plan and invest so you can play your part in helping that change happen.

WasteMINZ members were significant contributors to the development of the strategy, and I thank you for getting involved.

I know many of you have been working on these issues for a long time and would like to see us moving faster and getting there sooner.

We share that commitment.

But we also know that these are substantial changes to how we manage and use resources.

We want to make sure we have solid foundations on which to build.

That is why the strategy has three clear phases.

Our focus in the first phase is getting the building blocks, like the waste legislation reform, in place.

Action and investment plans will guide the strategy’s delivery.

The first of these plans will be developed this year, setting out priorities for the next five years.

Ministry officials will be hosting sessions later in this conference on this.

New waste legislation

Along with the strategy, our new waste legislation will support the transformation of Aotearoa New Zealand’s waste system. 

The Waste Minimisation Act 2008 and the Litter Act 1979 are dated and have limited tools to address our environmental issues.

The new legislation will allow us to fix the gaps in old legislation, give effect to our waste strategy and help us catch up with the rest of the world.

It will help make the waste levy more effective by broadening the scope of what it can apply to and what the money can be spent on.

The legislation will increase regulatory powers to control products and materials.

These include product bans, landfill bans, mandatory recycling, environmental performance standards and extended producer responsibility.

We’ll have new tools to regulate how the waste management and resource recovery sector operates, including waste tracking, duties of care, national standards, and national licensing.

The new law will have improved provisions for record-keeping and reporting obligations and a more robust compliance regime.

This means waste and resource recovery data will be more easily available.

Ultimately, the legislation will change how we all manage resources through their life cycles.

These are big changes, and we will work with local government and the industry as we create tools to address our growing waste problem.

Our intention is to introduce and pass the law next term, with an ongoing programme to implement the new regulatory tools.

Improved household recycling and food scraps collections

In another encouraging development, David Parker announced recently that we are improving household recycling and food scraps collections.

From February, household kerbside recycling services will start to be standardised across the country. In other words, no more confusion about what can be recycled in which part of the country.

All urban areas will have access to household kerbside recycling collections by 2027, and household kerbside food scraps collections by 2030.

We will also continue to work with businesses towards separating all food waste from general rubbish by 2030 – essential to meet the biogenic methane reduction target in our Emissions Reduction Plan.

Improving household kerbside collections was a project begun by WasteMINZ members.

These changes will require us all to do our bit, and I am confident we have the right people here at this conference today to make this happen.

Container return scheme

I would also like to acknowledge the work that has gone into the container return scheme.

The Government has deferred work on the scheme to the next term of Government because at the moment, we don’t want to thought to be imposing extra costs on households.

I know many of you have been involved in this work and I thank you for your contribution so far.

The new waste legislation will provide a framework for ‘extended producer responsibility’, or EPR.

‘Extended producer responsibility is an environmental policy approach, in which a producer’s responsibility for a product is extended to the post-consumer stage of a product’s life cycle.

This framework will provide a range of tools to manage products, including deposit return provisions, which could be used to prepare regulations for a container return scheme in the future.

The National Plastics Action Plan

As we all know, plastic is one of our greatest environmental challenges.

In September 2021, the Ministry published a National Plastics Action Plan.

The plan includes projects already under way and picks up some other initiatives.

We published Plastics, Research, Innovation and Investment Priorities to guide where we make investments to have the biggest impact.

We released our compostable product position statement, which provides an overview of some of the challenges and opportunities for these products and how they may fit with a circular economy.

We’re also supporting international negotiations towards the development of a global plastics treaty, with the second and third negotiation meetings taking place this year.

We’re joining with the global community to develop a treaty that aims to end plastic pollution.

While we in New Zealand are reducing domestic waste, it’s important we work to end plastic pollution on a global scale.

New Zealand has joined other countries, including Australia, Canada, Norway, and the UK, in the High Ambition Coalition to End Plastic Pollution.

The High Ambition Coalition is committed to an ambition to end plastic pollution by 2040.

We’re calling for the new treaty to match our country’s focus on reducing waste and establishing a more circular, low-carbon economy.

Plastic phase-outs

As a nation, we embraced the 2019 single-use plastic shopping bag ban, which has meant more than a billion fewer plastic bags ended up in landfills or the ocean each year.

Following that success, we’re now focused on the phase-out of more problematic plastic items.

Last year, we banned polystyrene takeaway food and drink packaging, single-use plastic drink stirrers and cotton buds, and plastics with pro-degradant additives.

In July, we’ll be banning single-use plastic produce bags and tableware.

We’re also restricting the use of plastic straws.

A transition to compostable plastic produce labels by 2025 will begin.

By banning single-use plastic produce bags, we are removing 150 million of these a year from New Zealand’s environment – that’s 17,000 plastic produce bags every hour.

In 2025, we’ll be banning all other PVC and polystyrene food and drink packaging.

These phase outs will prevent more than 2 billion plastic items going to landfill every year.

Shifting away from hard-to-recycle packaging like PVC and polystyrene will simplify the materials in circulation and reduce contamination in our recycling system.

It will also encourage businesses to make thoughtful choices in replacing the products that are being phased out, to instead use packaging that is reusable or readily recyclable.

Regulated product stewardship 

As I said we are also progressing our regulated product stewardship programme.

In July 2020, this Government identified six “priority products” under the Waste Minimisation Act.

The Ministry for the Environment is working on regulations to support product stewardship schemes for tyres, large batteries, refrigerants and farm wastes.

It’s also working with stakeholders to design schemes for wider e-waste and plastic packaging.

These will be real game changers in the battle to reduce waste and move to a truly circular economy.

Waste disposal levy expansion

On top of that, we’ve put in place a progressive increase in the waste disposal levy.

Under this Government, the levy on each tonne of waste disposed of at municipal landfills has tripled and the types of landfills covered has been expanded.

More money coming in means we can put more into initiatives that cut waste and encourage resource recovery, like composting and recycling. 

More than $20 million is available over the next two years through the Waste Minimisation Fund for projects that minimise waste and emissions from food scraps and green waste, paper and wood.

Expect to hear more on that very soon.

The $50 million Plastics Innovation Fund is focused on plastic waste minimisation.

Funded from the waste levy, supports the vision of the New Zealand Waste Strategy, Plastics Research Innovation and Investment Priorities, and Plastics Action Plan. 

Eight projects are now under way, and another seven approved, for a combined $15 million in funding.

These investments will bring genuine sustainable growth and enduring improvements towards a low-emissions, low-waste circular economy.

Expanding investment in the waste infrastructure demonstrates our commitment to the direction in which we are heading. 

Contaminated land

Identifying and protecting old disposal sites and other contaminated sites, and establishing programmes to remediate and manage them, is one of the goals in our waste strategy.

It is important we fix the environmental damage our past bad practices have caused.

Climate change means there’s even more urgency to do this, with  increasing risk that erosion, flooding or other weather events will expose or breach old landfills and other disposal locations.

We recently reached a significant milestone, with guidance released for regional councils to help them identify Hazardous Activities and Industries List – or HAIL – land.

I acknowledge it has taken some time to finalise that guidance.

Identifying HAIL land is the first step in the contaminated land management framework proposed in the Natural and Built Environment Bill.

It will help regional councils with the new obligation to identify all HAIL land within their boundaries.

Additionally, it contains information useful for making a high-level judgement about the level of risk that HAIL land may pose to human health and the environment.

We’ve had significant input into the guidance by the contaminated land sector including the WasteMINZ Technical Working Group.

A sincere thank you to everyone who has been part of this important work.

Other environmental policy work

Our waste reduction programme is just one part of our wider environmental reform agenda.

I won’t detail all the work under way – it’s a long list – but I will touch on some policy initiatives that you’ll no doubt know about.

Our emissions reduction plan sets out actions across the country to reduce greenhouse gas emissions across every sector of the economy.

The plan sets out how New Zealand can meet its first emissions budget (2022-2025).

The ERP puts New Zealand on track to achieve our 2050 target and contribute to global efforts to limit temperature rise to 1.5 degrees.

Targeting waste emissions will support the shift to a circular economy, and is a key part of the plan.  

Encouragingly, the last emissions reduction inventory showed that we’re on the right track, with emissions from waste reducing between 2020 and 2021 by 0.7 per cent.

The second emissions reduction plan will build on the success of the first plan and take us further.

You’ll also know about the significant reforms to the Resource Management Act.

The RMA was put in place to protect the environment.

There is broad consensus that over the past 30 years it has not done its job.

For the past five-and-a-half years, this Government has done much to fill some of the holes left by the shortcomings of the RMA.

Much like our new waste strategy and legislation, this is a once-in-ageneration opportunity to fix this crucial environmental law.

The RMA will be replaced by the Natural and Built Environment Act. There is also a new Spatial Planning Act and there will be a new Climate Adaptation Act.

The new laws will set up a framework for restoring, enhancing and improving the natural environment and enabling development within environmental limits.

At last year’s WasteMINZ virtual summit, Environment Minister David Parker said he was determined to make those responsible for creating contaminated sites be  held accountable for the clean-up costs. 

To this end, the Natural and Built Environment Bill has introduced provisions to clarify and improve the management of contaminated land.

It also introduces a framework for the ‘polluter pays’ principle.

More broadly, the RM reforms will improve how contaminated land is managed, and prevent new contamination.

Conclusion

We’ve taken some big strides in tackling the increasing waste problems in our country.

But there are many challenges ahead.

Last Sunday, the Government announced funding to help one of New Zealand’s biggest sources of greenhouse gas emissions – the New Zealand Steel mill at Glenbrook – change the way it makes steel.

Not only will the new process cut New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions by five per cent a year, it will also use 60 per cent of New Zealand’s scrapped steel – scrap that is current sent overseas.

This is the sort of thinking – and action – we need to address our waste problems, our climate problems and to keep our economy moving.

I started out today, talking about my house and the ways we found to reduce our waste footprint.

The real point of that story was that we worked with others – the private sector, the public sector and wider community.

As WasteMINZ members who deal with the issues in the sector every day, I appreciate your knowledge and your willingness to share that knowledge.

And as the new Associate Minister for the Environment responsible for waste, I look forward to working with you and that we can create a truly circular, low-waste economy and society.

Thank you all.