Permits to be required for exporting hard-to-recycle plastic waste

  • Hon Eugenie Sage

From 2021 permits will be required for New Zealanders wanting to export hard-to-recycle plastic waste.

The Associate Minister for the Environment, Eugenie Sage, today announced the requirements as part of New Zealand’s commitments to the Basel Convention, an international agreement of more than 180 countries which was amended in May 2019 to better regulate the global trade in plastic waste.

“The Government is committed to tackling our mounting waste problem, and to New Zealand helping global efforts to minimise the impact of waste in the environment.

“New international requirements for the trade in plastic waste under the Basel Convention are due to take effect on 1 January 2021. Parties to the Convention are now implementing the decision domestically.

“This will not prevent the trade of plastic waste but will incentivise trade in high-quality, sorted plastic waste and help ensure that materials are being shipped for the purposes of recycling,” Eugenie Sage said.

Requiring permits for the trade in most mixed plastic waste forms part of the Government’s wider resource efficiency work programme. It will enable New Zealand to meet its international commitments to the Basel Convention.

The agreement to amend the Basel Convention means exporters of hard-to-recycle, mixed plastic waste will require prior consent from the governments of receiving countries before shipping. In New Zealand, a permit from the Environmental Protection Authority will also be needed.

Single stream plastic waste, and mixtures of higher value PET, PE and PP (such as plastic types 1, 2 and 5), that will be recycled or reprocessed in an environmentally-sound manner can be exported without prior consent or a permit.

This includes plastic items such as soft-drink containers (PET), milk bottles (HDPE) and ice-cream containers (PP).

“When we improve our resource recovery system in New Zealand, we can process our waste here. When we do ship plastic overseas, it needs to be the higher value types of plastic which is ready to be recycled by the importing country; rather than ending up in landfill or worse still being burnt somewhere else.”

Earlier this month, as part of a wider plan to reduce the ever-increasing amount of rubbish ending up in New Zealand’s landfills, the Government announced it is to fund new recycling infrastructure and expand the national waste levy scheme.

As part of the Covid-19 Response and Recovery Fund (CRRF), the Government is investing $124 million for a number of initiatives across the country, which could include plastic recycling plants, weighbridges for improved waste data collection and improved equipment for recycling plants. 

Increased investment in waste and resource recovery infrastructure will ensure New Zealand emerges from Covid-19 with a far better resource recovery and recycling system, creating hundreds of permanent jobs and incomes spread across New Zealand.