New Zealand has a significant waste problem. I have mentioned the e-waste component of the problem recently, but it is important to note the larger waste problem that e-waste is just a part of – albeit a substantial and toxic part. Nearly a year on from when China stopped taking New Zealand waste and caused alarm among the Green and environmental community, how are we getting on with building a case for a comprehensive waste recycling programme?
If we look at the statistics for recycling of various wastes we can see that there is significant completely avoidable wastage. For example an estimated 60,000 tons or about 27% of known glass bottles and jars ended up in landfills in 2015. If we add that to the percentages of plastic bottles and percentages of aluminium cans then it becomes obvious that New Zealand has a significantly problem with our disposal of recyclables and possibly an attitude problem as well.
New Zealand, according to the national Packaging Council uses about 735,000 tons of packaging each year, of which only about 58% is recycled. This means about 426,300 tons gets recycled per annum.
When I think about the types of plastics that get used, I can see immediately ways of reducing the waste without significant changes having to be made. For example rather than putting earphones in plastic packaging that rips and becomes useless immediately, why not put them in resealable bags? Why not use stronger paper bags for larger items such as speakers, remote controls and other accessories?
But also let us look at the dis/incentives that could be used such as a Pigouvian tax on demonstrably avoidable waste. Businesses do not like taxes and this would prove an effective incentive to look for ways to reduce unnecessary packaging. In contrast letting affected businesses keep any monetary or material gains made from being more effective, will provide a net positive boost.
Some of the types of waste build their own cases. Aluminium for example is very energy intensive to create. It uses about 5 tonnes of bauxite to get one 1 tonne of aluminium in return. Recycled aluminium on the other hand uses about 5% of that energy. It also has the advantage of being readily available in large quantities to recycle. One might recall the recycling programmes in the 1980’s where bins were set up in public places and in return for dropping kilogrammes of aluminium cans down to the drop off, one got dollars back in return.
The National Party preference that the market be left to decide whether this happens or not is in many ways a cop out. I believe it is basically an excuse not to create a comprehensive recycling framework that New Zealand communities are able to get behind and reduce the single biggest blight on our environmental reputation. That does not necessarily mean Labour are better, as Government of former Prime Minister Helen Clark had opportunities to create green jobs from this and failed to do so.
There are ways in which recycling could become a jobs creator in New Zealand. Reducing the aluminium that is wasted will significantly reduce the annual power bill in New Zealand by reducing the need for energy intensive production of new aluminium. Opportunities for sorting jobs, research into recycled products as well as marketing and so forth could all be created. We just need a somebody or an organization with the boldness to stand up and say so.