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Waste Law Change Robs Peter To Pay Paul

Budget 2024 cut $52 million out of core funding for Waste Minimisation work currently underway at the Ministry for the Environment and diverted $178 million in targeted waste levy funds to non-waste and core operational activities. This required an amendment to the Waste Act and means New Zealand now has very little chance of achieving its goal of shifting to a low waste economy.

“Reducing waste and improving recycling are issues that consistently show up in the top 10 concerns list for New Zealanders” said Sue Coutts of the Zero Waste Network. “The waste levy is a critical tool for funding the infrastructure, services and education required to shift us towards a low waste economy.”

“We need to spend $2.4 billion to set Aotearoa up with the right infrastructure so that businesses and households have the systems they need to be able to reduce, reuse and recycle.”

“That sounds like a lot but the Waste Levy was on track to give us the investment capital required to make that shift in the next ten years until last Friday when the Government changed a few key clauses in the Waste Minimisation Act.”

The Waste Minimisation Act 2008 (WMA) was amended under urgency on May 31 to broaden what the central government portion of the landfill levy can be spent on. The Levy is expected to generate $1.2b over the next four years. This gets split 50 /50 between Central Government and Local Councils who use the money to implement their Waste Minimisation Plans.

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Apart from wider environmental projects, the law change also allows the government to use the waste fund to pay for remediating sites contaminated by polluting industrial activities and mining.

“This is a nightmare scenario for the resource recovery sector. It will set our industry back for years. Instead of wisely investing the waste levy funds in infrastructure and systems to prevent and reduce waste, which would reduce long term costs and risks for councils and communities, the Government is frittering away the investment capital to shore up operational budgets and mop up problems created by polluting industries.” said Sue Coutts.

“Up until now the waste levy has been a ‘polluter pays’ charge with all of the funds generated going towards preventing and reducing waste. The Government's portion of the funds can now be used to reduce environmental harm or increase environmental benefit. This is so broad that it basically becomes a slush fund.”

“The changes to the Act mean levy funds can now be used by the Government to cover the cost of cleaning up contaminated sites and restoring freshwater catchments. These are important jobs but they need to keep and expand their own budgets.”

“Using waste levy funds to fill the $177m hole created by cuts to other environmental budgets and to clean up after polluting industries is a zero sum game. It doesn’t take us anywhere new.”

“The Waste Levy will be used to backfill only about 12% of the $52m in budget cuts to the Waste Minimisation work programme. It looks like the ball will just get dropped on the other 88% of the work in progress. This will result in a massive loss of capability and knowledge from our sector. ”

“Big cuts have also been made in other sections of the Environmental budget, $70m from core Ministry for the Environment work and $51m from Climate change programmes. This will massively reduce capacity and capability within the Ministry for the Environment as well as other core agencies like the Climate Change Commission.”

“These cuts go against the Government's stated intention for Budget 2024 of identifying enduring savings and securing a long term, sustainable pipeline of infrastructure investments.” said Sue Coutts.

“Ignoring problems like waste and climate change doesn’t make them go away. Defunding climate and waste minimisation work so that the analysis, data and evidence don’t come to light just means the pressure keeps building up.”

Budget Policy Statement https://budget.govt.nz/budget/2024/bps/budget-goals-objectives.htm
Budget Summary p43 - 45 contains data on Vote Environment used in comments https://budget.govt.nz/budget/pdfs/summary-initiatives/b24-sum-initiatives.pdf
Waste Levy changes - https://environment.govt.nz/news/changes-to-the-waste-disposal-levy/

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