Speech at launch of WasteMINZ report on recycling

  • Hon Eugenie Sage

E mihi ana ki te rangi

E mihi ana ki te whenua

E mihi ana ki ngā maunga

E mohi ana ki ngā moana

E mihi ana ki ngā manawhenua Te Kawerau ā Maki

Koutou ngā uri kua huihui mai nei

Tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā tatou katoa

Greetings to all who are here today for the release of this important report. In particular, thank you to Justin and Villa Maria for hosting us this morning and your outline of some of Villa Maria’s sustainability initiatives.

Can I also acknowledge WasteMINZ’s CEO Janine Brinsdon, chair of the Territorial Authorities Forum Parul Sood, Project Manager Jenny Marshall and officials from the Ministry for the Environment.

I want to thank WasteMINZ and the Territorial Authorities’ Officers Forum for leading this critical piece of research on plastic waste and recycling, which I am pleased to say has been supported with substantial funding from the Ministry for the Environment’s Waste Minimisation Fund.

Can I also acknowledge Dr Rachel Chiaroni-Clark from the office of the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor and chief author of the report ‘Rethinking Plastics in Aotearoa New Zealand’ released by the Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and I last December. This WasteMINZ report fills in some of the gaps in information about plastics identified in that report.

And of course, Sunshine Yates Consulting, who conducted the nation-wide audit of household rubbish and recycling bins and bags and most of all can I acknowledge those hardy people who spent 25 days sorting through the household rubbish from 652 households and recycling bins from 708 households by hand from 25 local authorities at eight locations to provide us with the information on which the ‘Rethinking Rubbish and Recycling’ report is based.

Given what ends up in rubbish bins and in recycling crates and bins thanks to a high proportion of “wish cycling,” that would have been a very unpleasant task - so please pass on my sincere thanks to each of them.

I have only had time to dip into the report, and it is much-needed data on what is going into our recycling and rubbish, it has come at just the right time, and will help inform our efforts to address this problem.

Statistics that jump out at me are that:

  • Based on the households audited, New Zealanders use an estimated 1.76 billion plastic containers each year. That means the average New Zealand family uses an estimated 37 kilos of plastic containers each year. Some 39 per cent of their plastic bottles and containers are sent to landfill, despite being fully recyclable.
  • The most common plastic item in NZ is the plastic drink bottle with an average household using an estimated 188 plastic drink bottles each year 
  • The data collected indicates up to an estimated 97 million plastic drink bottles are headed to the tip annually – again, when there are recycling options.[1]

While this does not tell a great story about our waste trajectory, having this up-to-date waste data, gathered in 2019, which tells us information that we have not had until now, is very helpful.

Through this representative trawl of household rubbish and recycling bins in eight locations across New Zealand, we are able to get a true picture of the extent of the challenge we face – of rethinking plastics and product design, and of changing consumer behaviour to avoid problem plastics and avoid creating plastic waste, and make recycling instinctive and second nature to every single person in Aotearoa New Zealand.  

Change is possible and is happening. Just as consumers and supermarkets led the way with phasing out single-use plastic shopping bags, leading companies are already making a difference. Flight Plastics Ltd have been producing high-quality recycled PET for years and PACT group are building a new plant to do the same in Auckland. Government, businesses, councils, community organisations and consumers working together can tackle New Zealand’s mounting waste problem.

We are living in extremely dynamic times when it comes to plastic and resource recovery. We now have several countries, including China, banning the importation of plastic waste. Once upon a time it was out of sight, out of mind. But we can no longer wish away our waste.

Recently China announced it is banning single-use plastics from 2025. Another development that demonstrates the world is changing and has woken up to the fact that we must seriously look at how we keep products and materials in circulation for longer, and how we incentivise systems for re-use rather than continue down a path of take, make and throw away.

Managing plastic is a global issue which needs governments to set direction, provide leadership and put in place supporting regulations, incentives and investment.

This Government is committed to taking a leadership role in addressing New Zealand’s mounting waste and plastic problem. In the last two years, we have banned single-use plastic shopping bags and microbeads, and we’ve set in train an ambitious work programme, aimed at speeding up the shift to a more efficient, jobs-rich circular economy.

The programme includes:

  • Designing a container return scheme which will increase the recovery of drink bottles and cans for beverages consumed both at and away from home, so that the materials they are made of, such as aluminium and plastic, can be recovered for recycling, thereby reducing litter and waste.
  • It includes regulated product stewardship schemes for challenging products such as e-waste, tyres and batteries to design waste out of the system from the get-go and ensure these products are dealt with appropriately at the end of their life, and materials recovered and reprocessed rather than ending up in landfills.
  • A major initiative is expanding and improving the landfill levy to help fund more recycling facilities right here at home in Aotearoa and more ways to recover, re-use and reprocess materials, including from construction and demolition sites, glass and cardboard and paper; while creating jobs in the process.  Submissions close on Monday.
  • A National Resource Recovery work programme is underway to recharge recycling in New Zealand in response to China and other countries’ bans on importing waste and recyclables; make kerbside collection recycling and resource recovery schemes better and more consistent.  Consistency will enable nationwide education campaigns for the public.
  • Using the revenue from the landfill levy through the Waste Minimisation Fund (WMF) to strategically invest in projects like this WasteMINZ audit and report, which improves waste data so we have a better picture of where waste is coming from and where it’s going. Sustainable Coastlines, also with substantial funding from the WMF has also been doing great citizen science work here, enabling those involved in beach clean-ups to contribute statistically robust information on beach litter pollution.
  • And there is the $40 million Provincial Growth Fund investment to turn plastic waste and other materials into useful resources for businesses and consumers.
  • And lastly, there is the pivotal report by the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor Dr Juliet Gerrard – ‘Rethinking Plastics in Aotearoa New Zealand’ with its wide-ranging recommendations for dealing with plastic waste. The Government has welcomed this report and MFE is now developing a more substantive response to it about how best to galvanize this action.

Government’s initial response to the ‘Rethinking Plastics’ report which the Prime Minister and I signalled last December was that the Government will work alongside industry and businesses and councils to set goals for shifting away from low-value and hard-to-recycle plastic. Our first target will be to move away from single-use food and beverage packaging made of hard-to-recycle PVC and expanded polystyrene food and beverage packaging.

Because on the surface it looks very similar to PET, shifting away from PVC for items such as meat trays will help to reduce contamination in our recycling system and make it easier for recyclers like Flight Plastics to reprocess high-value materials like PET. It will also help to ensure that more of the materials that enter our kerbside systems – can in fact be recycled and have a market.

The Government will also continue to work with industry and business and other stakeholders to develop a labelling scheme for packaging, including plastic packaging. This will help to make it easier for New Zealanders to identify what can and can’t be recycled and take some of the confusion out of recycling.

And while we are doing this, businesses doesn’t have to wait. My message to the manufacturing leaders, retailers and marketing experts here today is that you can do several things immediately that will make a big difference to solving our plastic recycling challenge:

  • If you don’t need to package a product that will be used in days or weeks with plastic materials that will last a century then don’t.  I am heartened that one of NZ’s largest coffee roasters and suppliers has recognised this contradiction and is actively thinking about how it wants to package its coffee to reduce or avoid plastic waste.


  • Wherever possible, for retail packaging choose PET (1), HDPE (2) and Polypropylene (5) over other types of plastic.  They can be easily recycled. As the report’s useful graphics highlight – there are limited markets and opportunities to reuse plastics 3, 4, 6 and 7.


  • Avoid mixed materials. If you are using many different materials and components in your products like plastic sleeves, cardboard – can you change this? That is because the more material types that are included, the harder it is to recycle. Shrink-wrapped plastic sleeves make life difficult for optical sorters – they can’t distinguish the outer sleeve from the container itself, and unlike adhesive labels, the sleeves are hard to remove during the recycling process. This means that high-value number 1 or 2 plastic gets labelled as low value and included in bales of mixed plastic, and is not reprocessed here in New Zealand.


  • Avoid coloured plastic for beverage containers and instead use clear (PET) or natural coloured (HDPE) plastics, which can be recycled at least seven or eight times for a higher value right here in New Zealand.


  • Engrave or print the plastic resin ID code (1-7) on your product packaging so that recyclers and the public can clearly identify what type of plastic it is (and whether this should be included in their kerbside bins).


  • And if you’re responsible for producing millions of milk bottles then it’s time to get on with helping build the plant to reprocess them here in New Zealand.


Plastic is fundamental to our everyday life, but is one of our generation’s greatest environmental challenges, especially when it ends up in the oceans and kills whales, turtles and seabirds such as the juvenile toroa/royal albatross found recently at Gisborne with a flattened plastic bottle in its stomach.


But with this comes huge opportunities, especially for innovative business. One of the pleasures of my job is getting to visit creative businesses and community groups around the country who are already designing the solutions we need.  Flight Plastics in Lower Hutt has been making food packaging from recycled plastic PET bottles for a number of years, funded by the landfill levy via the Waste Minimisation Fund.

You only have to read newspapers, social media or listen to talk-back to know the public is urging us on. Business and the community are telling us it is time for more decisive action.  Public polls show preferences for tougher measures on waste, particularly single-use plastic. And I regularly receive emails and letters – including from school-children – demanding the government do more. It is encouraging to know we have this support and to see the momentum this is creating.

Tomorrow I’ll be launching a new campaign by MfE which encourages people in a fun way to take a simple action to reuse and reduce waste. We hope you’ll join in this campaign – and encourage your friends and whānau to do so too.

We want to move plastic through a circular economy, drastically reducing plastic waste and pollution.

As today’s Truth about Plastic Recycling report shows, there is much work ahead of us to achieve this goal. And I’m confident that together we can do this.

Kia ora koutou katoa.

Details of WasteMINZ's report can be found here: https://www.wasteminz.org.nz/2020/01/nz-now-leads-the-world-in-understanding-plastic-recycling-habits/