Government is proposing a framework to radically transform not only the way we deal with waste but how it’s created.

New Zealand is set to change tack in a big way on how it tackles waste, with the Government proposing sweeping changes impacting business, consumers, and the public sector. 

The Ministry for the Environment’s Taking responsibility for our waste consultation document sets out a framework to radically transform not only the way we deal with waste but how it’s created in the first place.

This means the effects will be seen across the business landscape, particularly on those which import, manufacture or sell products in NZ, with a focus on product stewardship, the right to repair, the right to return and banning problematic materials.

What it’s all about

The consultation document sets out a new waste strategy and legislation to replace the Waste Minimisation Act 2008 and Litter Act 1979.

It puts a focus on moving to a circular economy by 2050 at its centre with principals based on designing out waste, pollution and emissions, keeping products and materials in use at their highest value, and regenerating natural systems. The emphasis is on promoting an all-of-Government, all-of-industry approach to the circular economy.

Critically, it spreads the responsibility for dealing with, and reducing waste, across all of society – from producers through to consumers – with waste reduction targets proposed for businesses (30% – 50%), the public sector (30% – 50%) and households (60% – 70%).

The deadline for submissions, through the Ministry’s website, is looming so we recommend you read the document and make a submission before 26 November.

Here are our five key take outs from the consultation document:

Powering up product stewardship

One of the biggest drivers to reduce waste that the Ministry is already using is product stewardship – a concept where those who make, sell and use products take responsibility for the environmental impact the products cause throughout their lifecycle.

Done properly, this moves away from the “ambulance at the bottom of the hill” focus on recycling as the main solution for our waste woes.  Instead, it resets the conversation right back at the top of the waste hierarchy – through avoidance, minimisation and reuse of materials. 

You may be familiar with moves already underway to regulate six product categories, including single-use plastic packaging, e-waste and tyres. This means these products will be subject to mandatory product stewardship, with businesses which produce or supply them regulated to participate, a move we strongly support. What’s key in this consultation is the proposed strengthening of these regulations and tools to make these mandatory programmes more robust and enforceable.

This could include a concept known as fee eco-modulation. This means fees charged to importers, distributors and manufacturers of products by a regulated product stewardship organisation (PSO) to deliver the outcomes of a scheme could be structured (or modulated) to incentivise waste reduction.  For example, a business making products using recyclable material, or selling products which are longer lasting or easier to repair or dismantle could be charged a reduced fee.  Conversely, an increased fee would be applied to those whose products cause higher volumes of avoidable waste or aren’t designed for repair or disassembly. 

The aim here is to encourage producers to design waste out of the system from the get-go.  Again, this is a concept we fully support.  The Ministry’s consultation also indicates it would support proposals for more regulated product stewardship schemes which would see more products fall under a regulated framework.

Businesses need to be very aware of this move and should make a submission about the likely impacts of regulation on their products.

“Right to return packaging” and “right to repair”

This bring us to another major element of the proposal – the right to return packaging and the right to repair.

While stewardship is one mechanism for ensuring end of life packaging doesn’t get littered or end up in landfill unnecessarily, the Ministry’s proposal also considers legislation which would require manufacturers and retailers to make it easy for their customers to return packaging if they want to.

This incentivises business to consider factors such as excess packaging, reuse, recyclability of packaging and access to end-of-life solutions for packaging, as they, and not the customer, may have to deal with it by taking it back.

The ‘right to repair’ has found significant traction in other parts of the world where some countries or regions have legislation in place requiring manufacturers to make spare parts available, include product repair manuals with the sale of products, and design products so they are more durable and easier to repair.

This would help with addressing the issue of built in obsolescence where products are essentially outdated before they even get to market.

It’s proposed New Zealand work towards implementing similar legal framework. These could also require products to be labelled with a rating of their repairability and durability, in the same way some products’ energy and water usage is currently labelled.

Cracking down on problem materials

While Government has moved forward with its proposed phasing out and banning of difficult-to-recycle plastics and some single-use plastic items, the Ministry’s new proposal looks at using the Imports and Exports (Restrictions) Act 1988 to ban their import.

It rightly points out any changes to import controls will need to be carefully developed so they are only used for legitimate environmental protection goals. 

Businesses dependent on the import and export of goods will need to investigate the implications of any such ban for their supply chain and are encouraged to include the impacts (positive and negative) in their submission.

Cost of landfill

Changes to the waste to landfill levy were recently enacted meaning the levy will increase and be applied to all landfills over the next four years. The waste levy is seen as a critical tool to encourage change with both producers and consumers, particularly when combined with ‘right to return’.

New waste legislation proposed by the Ministry could further incentivise a move up the waste hierarchy by expanding the levy to cover things like waste-to-energy or downcycling (recycling materials into products which can’t be recycled a further time).

Plus, the consultation document proposes new legislation in which guidance on setting the future levy would include its impact on encouraging a circular economy and the potential for negative behaviour change (like illegal dumping). It’s worth noting enforcement around illegal dumping sits with local government which are often resource constrained in this area.

What’s next?

The proposal set out by the Ministry is a real step change in the language and tools Government uses around managing waste. The position of the circular economy at the front and centre is very encouraging and should the recommendations be put into effect, it would bring significant change to New Zealand society in how we think about and deal with waste.

Critically for business, there are significant impacts that need to be considered and planned for.

The resulting legislation will only be as good as the sum of the combined submissions.  We highly recommended you read the consultation document and make a submission in a professional or private capacity, or both.

Find out more

3R will be holding a series of webinars to cover some of the key impacts in more detail and allow you to ask questions. Join us to find out about how proposed changes to product stewardship legislation and a new waste strategy could affect you.