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“Urgent” Change Needed To Address New Zealand’s Waste: Waikato Regional Council

Waikato Regional Council is calling for urgent and transformational change to address New Zealand’s growing waste problem in its submission to Government.

That includes a call for a suite of actions that should be rolled out together, including a ban on materials that are not recyclable, incentivising reusables, regulation of product design in line with the waste hierarchy, and increasing the waste levy to the international best practice of $140 per tonne.

All these changes and more are detailed in a comprehensive 21-page submission in response to a Government proposal for a new waste strategy and more comprehensive waste legislation to regulate the management of waste, and products and materials circulating in the economy. Once developed, the new legislation would replace the Waste Minimisation Act 2008 and the Litter Act 1979.

Council waste prevention advisor Valerie Bianchi said the actions proposed in the consultation do not reflect the scale of the crisis, nor the urgency of the transformation required.

A number of suggestions have been made by the council on what would enable society and local government to action circular economy transition. That includes requesting legislation that addresses the underlying root of the problem – a linear economy – and actions and investments are prioritised at the top of the waste hierarchy in alignment with circular economy principles.

This should place increased responsibility on producers, manufacturers, retailers and industry, rather than emphasising actions around consumers, the council’s submission says.

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Legislation should also enable equitable access to services from rural to urban, north to south, enshrine Te Tiriti o Waitangi obligations at the core, and achieve this through time bound targets.

During November’s Strategy and Policy Committee meeting, councillors heard that New Zealand is one of the highest generators of waste per person in the world, which impacts on the environment and contributes to climate change.

But waste services are not equitable across the country or even within the Waikato region, Ms Bianchi said.

That’s why the council submission is calling for capital and operational funding to be made available for local councils to support transition to a circular economy, such as kerbside organics collections, minimising the burden to the ratepayer.

In discussion during the committee meeting, councillors agreed it was important that it needs to be easy for everyone to make the right choice, and there's a great opportunity for households to be subsidised to have worm farms, and waste audits for businesses such as restaurants should also be part-funded.

Just as it does already in the Waikato, the submission calls for every regional council to have a role in waste prevention – providing regional coordination, overview of strategy, bringing people and organisation together and having a unified voice. This would also be an opportunity to support enforcement and engage in regional waste operator licensing.

Chair of the Strategy and Policy Committee Pamela Storey said, “Our biggest challenge is that in today’s society profits continue to be made through the development of items that cannot be repaired, cannot be recycled and are built for obsolecence. It's abhorrent that it continues to be endorsed as the system we work within, and for that reason, I strongly support product stewardship.”

While some councillors described it as an aspirational scheme pitching to the ideal, there was agreement that the topic of waste in New Zealand has had huge under investment and transformation is needed.

“An all of system approach is needed – one where processes need to be in place that make it easy for communities to manage waste better,” said Cr Storey.

Submissions closed on 10 December.

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