New government signals higher priority for waste and recycling issues. Paul Evans, chief executive, Waste Management Institute New Zealand.
As we look forward to 2018, there is an air of excitement and positivity amongst local government waste and recycling professionals.
This optimism is in large part driven by the inclusion of key waste and recycling issues in coalition agreement documents associated with the formation of the new government. These are issues which have been on councils’ agendas for quite some time, but they haven’t been viewed as a priority for central government. Could 2018 be the year where this changes? Many appear confident it will be.
In what was something of a surprise, Labour and New Zealand First’s coalition agreement specifically identified the establishment of a tyre stewardship fund.
End-of-life tyres have for a long time been a problematic waste stream. Some four million passenger tyres and one million truck tyres reach their end of life in New Zealand each year. Only a tiny proportion of these are recycled, resulting in over 50,000 tonnes of tyre waste annually. Often, local government has been forced to pick up the bill for associated illegal dumping and the clean-up of abandoned tyre stockpiles.
In 2011, there was a concerted push for an industry-driven solution to end-of-life tyres, which enlisted support from a broad range of key stakeholders.
A consensus-driven approach was taken, with a working group which represented the full spectrum of tyre manufacturers, distributors, consumers and recyclers. The group was tasked with ensuring proposed stewardship options were both economically viable and acceptable to the market at large.
This project had many facets, including:
- Investigating the regulatory requirements for priority product declaration under the Waste Minimisation Act 2008;
- Full financial modelling of preferred stewardship options; and
- Cost-benefit analysis of differing stewardship models versus the status quo.
The core outcome of this project was a ready-to-go model for a self-funded stewardship scheme. This world best practice scheme could create new recovery opportunities, and support ongoing research and development and end-use options.
Sadly, the government at the time chose not to declare end-of-life tyres a priority product and so this approach was never adopted.
The recent coalition agreement has once again thrust tyres to the forefront, much to the delight of many in local government. However, the optimism is cautious. The coalition agreement simply talks about the establishment of a tyre stewardship fund, rather than a comprehensive, world-class stewardship scheme.
In light of this, local government must work closely with the new government to ensure a balanced, effective and economically-viable scheme is established rather than simply the development of a token fund.
Reducing waste to landfill
Perhaps less surprising was the Labour and Green coalition agreement including a commitment to minimising waste to landfill with significant reductions in all waste classes by 2020.
Such a target is near and dear to the hearts of many territorial authority waste and recycling officers.
The Waste Minimisation Act 2008 very clearly puts responsibility on territorial authorities to promote effective and efficient waste management and minimisation within their districts. However, it is fair to say that many territorial authorities have felt their ability to fulfil this responsibility has been hampered by a lack of central government focus and support.
So, once again, there is cautious optimism with respect to government attention in this area. Of course, achieving significant reductions by 2020 will be a challenge, given it’s just two years away.
So how might this be achieved?
At a recent meeting of local government waste and recycling officers, there was significant discussion on the following elements.
- That the Waste Disposal Levy should be extended to all types of landfill. Currently, the levy of $10 per tonne only applies to municipal landfills, meaning around 70 percent of waste attracts no levy at all, and as such, there is no price signal to minimise waste.
- That more work needs to be done to understand the regional and industry-specific impacts of potentially increasing the levy from its current rate of $10 per tonne. Whilst it is recognised that increasing the waste levy will likely result in a reduction in waste disposal, some councils want greater clarity around where the costs and benefits may sit for their communities.
- That better waste and recycling data needs to be collected and shared to ensure we can effectively understand the impacts of policy and programme implementation at a national level.
- That a robust investment strategy is required, to ensure that any additional funds generated by the waste levy will be directed towards impactful programmes and infrastructure.
While the only specific mention of product stewardship in the coalition agreement was the establishment of a tyre stewardship fund, it is fair to say that investigating further product stewardship opportunities remains a key priority for the local government sector.
More particularly, the establishment of mandatory product stewardship schemes under the auspices of the Waste Minimisation Act 2008 is seen as vital by many. These schemes serve to improve the management of these waste streams while also shifting the responsibility and cost from councils to the producers and consumers of these products.
There are a range of waste streams which territorial authorities have identified for further consideration, and these are largely in line with the Ministry for the Environment’s 2014 discussion document, Priority waste streams for product stewardship intervention.
These waste streams include:
- Beverage containers (via a container deposit style scheme);
- Electrical and electronic waste; and
- Agrichemicals and farm plastics.
Will local government be successful?
Many could look at this increased governmental focus and consider it a job done. However, councils must remember the government has many items on its agenda, so it’s easy for specific initiatives to get lost.
This is further compounded by the fact that the Hon David Parker, as Minister for the Environment, will have an incredibly high workload given he is also Attorney-General, Minister for Economic Development, Minister for Trade and Export Growth and Associate Minister of Finance.
So to be successful in the coming year(s), the local government sector must not squander the opportunities presented to it. It must be pragmatic and advocate on the basis of a strong evidence base, and importantly, it must speak as a coherent and consistent single voice. Together we won’t be ignored.
This article was first published in the Perspectives 2018 issue of NZ Local Government Magazine.