Draft waste strategy falls short

The Government’s Waste Strategy and Legislation consultation paper, Taking Responsibility for Our Waste, which was released  today, has missed the opportunity to drive the transition to a circular economy, says the Zero Waste Network. 

Spokesperson Sue Coutts said the approach outlined in the consultation paper still focuses on putting a band-aid on our current recycling and waste management system, and doesn’t feature the big strategic moves  needed to  shift decision making and investment to the top of the waste hierarchy.

“The  draft Emissions Reduction Plan and draft Infrastructure Strategy  both look to the new Waste Strategy to lead the way in the transition to the circular economy.  But the draft Waste Strategy falls far short of this.”

“We won’t build a Circular Economy by making minor adjustments to our current waste trajectory. We totally agree that standardising kerbside recycling is necessary,  but it is not the big strategic move we need to set Aotearoa up for the next 30 years.” 

“We need bold strategic direction from the new waste strategy, with te ao Māori as the foundation and the circular economy as our collective goal.”

“Unfortunately the approach in the proposed Waste Strategy won’t get the job done. To be relevant to the challenges we are facing right now we need to focus on Zero Waste strategies, not the same old bottom of the pipe approach we have been using for the last 20 years.”

“Everyone needs to be on board if we are going to solve our waste problems once and for all. The draft Waste Strategy doesn’t have a coherent plan or story about how the Government will link up with those who are already implementing the circular economy on the ground. There is very little about partnership with Mana Whenua, social procurement with local communities and SME  to increase circularity.”

Ms Coutts said the invisibility of the Māori perspective on waste, zero waste and the circular economy was a big gap in the proposed waste strategy.

 “I would have expected to see it shining through in the strategy. The legislation section mentions the need for the purpose and principles of the new act to include a ‘Te Tiriti clause’ and reference to “Te Tiriti o Waitangi” and te ao Māori, pointing  out that this is a notable gap in the 2008 Waste Minimisation Act.”

“It’s surprising and disappointing  that te ao Māori is missing from the draft waste strategy,  when I know so much good work has been done to bring matāuranga Māori to the fore in our sector over the last fifteen years.” said Sue Coutts.

Ms Coutts said she was hopeful that the consultation process would be a chance to improve the Waste Strategy and establish the regulatory framework needed to guide the transition to a circular economy.

Ms Coutts said there were excellent examples of strategies overseas focusing at the top of the waste hierarchy, such as Scotland’s “Made to Last” strategy and Wales’ “Beyond Recycling”.

“Countries who are doing well on reducing waste and transitioning to a circular economy also have independent agencies dedicated to this mission, such as Zero Waste Scotland and WRAP. “

A stand-alone entity for zero waste and the circular economy would make all the difference in New Zealand. The consultation paper mentions this idea in passing, but the need for a stand-alone entity is urgent and should be front and centre.”

“Effective implementation is just as  important as having the right strategy and Legislation in place,  many of the most useful provisions in the current Waste Minimisation Act have  never been used. “

“To give us any chance of making good progress  towards a circular economy in the next 10 years , the waste strategy must give us much better direction on how to use critical levers such as product stewardship to change the way that companies do business and make products.

“The big story of the circular economy isn’t about teaching people to be better at cleaning up litter and putting rubbish in the right bins, it’s about driving businesses to reduce wasteful products and inefficient business models in the first place”, she said.

“The place we really need to innovate is in our use of tools like Mandatory Product Stewardship which takes us back up the recovery and supply chains to find the best places to introduce more circular use of materials and slow down the flow of goods and single use packaging.”

“A comprehensive product stewardship toolkit is the critical driver for making the shift to a circular economy.  The regulatory and legislative support for this needs to come through the new waste strategy and the new waste act. We are concerned that the consultation paper is still holding onto the idea that industry should be designing schemes when they have a vested interest in the wasteful status quo.” 

“We need an independent, regulatory framework in place so we can finally get viable, robust and sustainable product stewardship schemes going for products like E-waste and beverage containers.”

Ms Coutts said it was good to see the right to repair and durability showing up in the legislation section of the consultation paper. 

“Consumer NZ’s Built to Last campaign has shown  us just how many products are actually being  ‘built to fail’ these days. Legislating for repair and durability would ensure resources were kept in use for longer as part of the circular economy.”

Other proposed changes to waste laws were also promising, including regulatory tools to require separation of recyclables and organic waste, a proposed right to return packaging, putting a levy on waste-to-energy and downcycling as well as landfills, and requiring waste operators to be licensed. The proposed rethink of the Waste Minimisation Fund and the way we collect waste data are also well overdue.