3R Group Chief Executive Adele Rose.

by Adele Rose, 3R Group Chief Executive

If, like me, you’ve found the sight of tonnes of recyclables being landfilled, tyres being illegally dumped, and pollution in our oceans, frustrating and distressing, then the Government’s latest announcement brings hope for real solutions and change.

On 29 July, 2020 the Ministry for the Environment made its most far reaching announcement to date, setting the stage for a vast swath of products (including plastic packaging) to be included under regulated product stewardship schemes. This means businesses will have to take responsibility for their products from design to end of life, and ensure they are reused, recycled or properly disposed of.

The magnitude of the announcement simply cannot be overstated, especially when you consider the range of products it includes: plastic packaging, e-waste, refrigerants, tyres, agrichemicals and their containers, and farm plastics.

This is a big win for New Zealand – for the environment and for a society keen for action.

Technically speaking, the announcement declares these six product categories as ‘priority products’ under the Waste Minimisation Act 2008.  This means regulations will come into force to compel businesses which make, import and sell these products to take responsibility for them by contributing to a stewardship scheme.

It’s easy to get bogged down in the detail – waste is a surprisingly complicated issue – but what’s important for the average New Zealander is the way we deal with things like plastic packaging is set to change, and change for the better.  

Consider what you put in the rubbish bin each week – wrappers, plastic pottles and a multitude of other plastic packaging which currently can’t be recycled.  All this will now fall under a stewardship scheme, or schemes.  The schemes will be required to be highly accessible and easy to use – key components in making sure the materials make it into the resource recovery cycle, rather than in the bin, or worse on the roadside and then into our waterways.  The scheme will then be responsible to ensure they are reused, repurposed or recycled, or at the very least, properly disposed of. 

The impact doesn’t just extend to the end of a product’s life but its design too – stewardship starts with the brands and manufacturers, encouraging designers to think about making things easier to repair or recycle or simply last longer. 

It also means less resources will be lost to landfill. Tyres, for example, which are often found in larges piles around the countryside, posing a significant environmental hazard, are a valuable resource which will now be properly managed through a regulated scheme.

The other product types in the announcement also have big environmental and social impacts. Refrigerants and other synthetic greenhouse gases are among the most potent contributors to climate change in the world. E-waste represents a vast treasure trove of resources currently being lost to landfill, including significant amounts of gold and other precious metals, and agrichemicals and farm plastics are widely used in our primary sector-driven economy.

As the Chief Executive of a company which envisions a world without waste by using the tools product stewardship provides, I will be one of many in our industry celebrating this announcement.     

This is without a doubt the turning point in New Zealand’s war on waste and the beginning of a new era of sustainability for our country.