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Report: New Zealanders send 39 per cent of household plastic containers to landfill

A newly released report on New Zealand’s plastic rubbish and recycling practices is a “timely wake-up call” for a nation that needs to improve its processes, New Zealand’s Associate Minister for the Environment Eugenie Sage explained.

The report, The Truth about Plastic Recycling in Aotearoa New Zealand in 2020, found that an estimated 181 million containers showed no plastic identification code or recycling information.

Additionally, it found that 39 per cent of household plastic bottles and containers are being sent to landfill, despite being fully recyclable.

This is not all due to consumer behaviour, according to the report. Packaging design plays a large part in determining the recyclability of a package. Findings from WasteMINZ’ audit of 867 New Zealand households show that there are real opportunities for packaging designers and manufacturers to make changes that would greatly enhance the amount of materials currently recovered for recycling nationwide.

Sage said that the report, published by WasteMINZ, highlights the value of much better product design so that more products and their materials can be re-used or recycled.

“It’s a timely wake-up call for designers, manufacturers, retailers and marketers to shift towards more recyclable and re-useable packaging. There is a strong public demand for this.”

Through this nationwide trawl of household rubbish and recycling bins, the government is able to get a clearer picture of the extent of the challenge and the urgent need for an ambitious plan to reduce waste, Sage explained.

The report also shows that New Zealand households dispose of 1.76 billion plastic containers in their kerbside recycling and rubbish bins each year.

This surpasses the combined annual number of containers, collected in kerbside rubbish and recycling bins, which are made from metal (767 million per annum) and glass (854 million per annum).

The report is part of a three-year project supported by a $425,000 grant from the Ministry for the Environment’s Waste Minimisation Fund. The project was led by WasteMINZ New Zealand in partnership with councils and fulfilled in late 2019 in several cities and regional towns across the country.

“The management of plastic is a global issue, which needs government to set direction, provide leadership and put in place supporting regulations, incentives and investment,” Sage said.

This report and the recent report Rethinking Plastics in Aotearoa New Zealand provide valuable information to help inform the New Zealand government’s work programme to reduce waste.

The government’s plan includes:

  • A container return scheme for drink bottles and cans;
  • Regulated product stewardship schemes for tough waste issues such as e-waste, tyres and batteries;
  • A National Resource Recovery work programme in response to China and other countries’ bans on importing waste and recyclables;
  • Improving waste data;
  • Expanding and improving the landfill levy to help fund more ways to recover, re-use and reprocess materials and minimise waste; and
  • A $40 million Provincial Growth Fund investment to turn plastic waste into useful material for businesses and consumers.