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Greater use of economic tools needed

Greater use of economic tools needed to manage waste

New Zealand produces a large amount of waste for a country with a small population. We would do a far better job of reducing that waste if we made more use of economic tools, says Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment Dr Morgan Williams. People will do the right thing if given the right incentives, he says, and economic tools such as levies, taxes, credits, subsidies, and deposit schemes are one way of providing these.

Dr Williams was commenting on a PCE report, “Changing behaviour: Economic instruments in the management of waste”, which was tabled in Parliament on 12 July. Using waste as a case study, the report examines the extent to which economic instruments or tools can be used to improve environmental management.

“Many OECD countries have made a good job of using economic instruments to tackle the growing problem of waste generation, but our Ministry for the Environment has generally failed to develop them,” he says. “The Ministry has continued to promote voluntary measures to reduce waste. But the weight of evidence suggests that where a significant shift in behaviour is needed, voluntary measures are not enough.”

The use of economic instruments was clearly set out as part of the New Zealand Waste Strategy agreed to after wide consultation in 2002. Dr Williams says it is disappointing that we have failed to develop them to their full potential, despite the efforts of local government.

The report contains five recommendations to the Minister for the Environment, including the need for much better data on waste. The Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment is an independent environmental watchdog. One of its responsibilities is to assess how well public agencies are managing the environment.

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