Speech to WasteMINZ Conference

Tena koutou katoa.  Kia ora tatou.  Na mihi nui kia koutou.

Greetings and thank you for having me at this year’s WasteMINZ conference.

In particular, I acknowledge WasteMINZ’s chair Parul Sood, WasteMINZ board members, CEO Nic Quilty and the team, and all of today’s delegates.

I’m going to take this opportunity to give you some insight into the Government’s priorities, so you have more certainty about the direction of travel.

Just for your background, my involvement with the waste sector started back in the early 2000’s when I was on the board of Recycle South.  So waste minimisation, waste management and recycling has been on my radar for some time.

As Minister for the Environment, while initially I have focussed on the 100-day priorities, I have also been considering waste and waste policy, and how this fits in with the broader priorities for the Government.

I have been fortunate to meet some of you already.

As well as Parul and Nic from WasteMINZ, I’ve also met with the Waste and Recycling Industry Forum, Local Government New Zealand, Auckland Council, commercial and industry organisations, the Zero Waste Network and the charitable sector.

I have had the pleasure of visiting organisations such as Ecocentral, Plastics Recycling NZ (Comspec), Recycle South and the Onehunga Community Recycling Centre with Localised and the Zero Waste Network.  

The engagements I’ve had to date have been invaluable in providing a deeper understanding of both the challenges and opportunities in the sector.

I’d like to thank everyone who has taken the time to provide their insights, and share their knowledge and expertise with me. 

I look to forward meeting more of you in the future.

Through this initial engagement with the sector, it’s clear to me there are some immediate priorities that need to be addressed.

Back in 2018, China’s National Sword policy rocked the recycling world and there’s been a broad effort to improve New Zealand’s recycling systems as a whole. 

But I know there is more to do. 

Broadly speaking, the Government intends to continue to work towards making improvements to New Zealand’s recycling systems, with a particular focus on targeted interventions and investment to address the most problematic waste streams. 

There is an opportunity to strengthen our recycling infrastructure nationally, reduce emissions, and ensure supply chains take responsibility and play their part in waste minimisation. 

Vulnerable landfills and other contaminated sites, construction and demolition waste, plastics and organic waste are also key areas of focus.

There is also an opportunity for the sector to lead on solutions.

This programme of work must also fit into the broader priorities of the Government, and the context of our wider challenges as a country. 

The Government’s key focus is on addressing the cost of living and the impacts this is having on households and businesses.

I want to avoid passing additional costs onto councils that are already stretched, especially our smaller, less-resourced councils, which are already feeling the weight of balancing limited budgets with the needs of communities. 

And while these are pressing issues for everyone, I also understand that New Zealanders care deeply about waste minimisation.

Within this context, the Government will continue to work towards minimising waste in line with its priorities, where it is cost-effective to do so, and represents good value for money.

We also want to encourage innovation and private sector involvement where it makes the most sense, and provide the regulatory framework that promotes this. 

Before I get into these priority areas, I want to mention two areas of particular interest – future policies for kerbside collections, and the container return scheme. 

I want to first acknowledge this group and the importance of WasteMINZ and the sector. 

A striking example of your advocacy and passion came to fruition only this year.  

On 1 February, following years of work from local and central government, the waste sector and industry partners, kerbside recycling was standardised across New Zealand.

WasteMINZ was instrumental in bringing this about. 

In fact, it was the recommendations from WasteMINZ and its members that formed the basis of this policy.

I congratulate everyone here who was involved. 

Standardising materials is a first step towards a more effective and efficient recycling system. 

It focuses on the items that can be confidently recycled and have good end markets. 

This is a good starting point but I know New Zealanders want to do more. 

I am pleased to see the establishment of the Recycling Leadership Forum, which brings together sector representatives from across the system. 

The forum will explore some of the challenging kerbside issues including some of the items that are no longer accepted in household recycling bins.

I understand the forum is committed to coming up with solutions and I look forward to seeing what they can achieve through this collaboration. 

I know many of you would like to know more about the policy the previous government announced last year requiring councils to offer food scraps collections in all urban areas by 2030.

The Government is considering whether these policies will continue as planned.

Going back to cost-of-living pressures, we need to factor in the current economic situation, including costs to households and councils.

We also need to think about how these policies contribute to minimising waste, the impact they would have on carbon emissions, and how the timing could work with local government planning cycles. 

I am aware the 2027 date for some organics collection roll-outs is fast approaching, and you would like some certainty to factor it into your planning. 

Please be assured I am working with my officials to consider these decisions as soon as practicable.

Should the policy be progressed, the Government will consider whether councils need more time to put it in place. 

As for the container return scheme, the Government will be considering options for dealing with single-use beverage containers.

I am eager to hear your views on this topic including any views on the design of a container return scheme before I present these options. 

In the meantime, I thank everyone who has had a part in the work completed so far.

I want to now go into the areas of the waste portfolio that I see as having particular importance, and how they fit into the Government’s broader goals for New Zealand.

One of the Government’s priorities is to make sure the waste levy is invested to achieve the best outcomes for New Zealanders in the most cost-effective way.

Investing in ways to minimise waste is not just about one single part of the waste system.

It’s about creating a comprehensive, integrated system that reduces waste, maximises reuse, recycling and recovery, and minimises harm to the environment. 

Too often, valuable materials end up in the landfill simply because we lack the infrastructure to separate them out. 

The Government’s priorities for investing in waste include making sure New Zealand’s waste infrastructure is up to the job.

The Government recognises that our waste infrastructure needs to catch up.

Businesses and households need alternatives to landfill disposal, to help reduce their consumption and emissions related to waste.

I am pleased to be able to confirm today that Cabinet has agreed to prioritise investment towards waste infrastructure, including new or expanded resource recovery and processing facilities, transfer stations, and recycling and processing facilities.

The Government also wants to explore how we can invest in innovation, such as new options for treated timber or hard-to-recycle plastics, and also ways to support product stewardship systems to reduce the environmental impact of waste products.

Another major focus is remediating contaminated sites, including historic landfills vulnerable to weather events. 

These investments must also focus on dealing with the most problematic waste streams.

These include construction and demolition materials, organic waste, plastics, and kerbside recyclables. 

We will focus investment on projects that will most benefit the public, and that might not otherwise happen without Government intervention.

You can expect to hear more information on changes to the Waste Minimisation Fund investment signals soon. 

The Government has committed to lower inflation, cost-of-living relief, fiscal repair and economic growth.

This includes a programme of building infrastructure for growth and resilience.

The Government aims to fix our country’s longstanding infrastructure problems by enabling housing growth with the help of private funding and financing; and establishing a National Infrastructure Agency that develops a 30-year infrastructure plan and supports our ambition to enable more housing much faster.

Construction and demolition projects are essential to grow our economy.

They also leave behind a staggering amount of waste, which places a burden on New Zealand’s landfills and the environment. 

I have advised the Prime Minister that managing construction waste in a cost-effective way will be a priority.

Estimates show that at least half of all waste disposal to landfills in New Zealand is from construction and demolition activities.

I want to hear from the industry on ways to address construction and demolition waste in a cost-effective way that doesn’t add more costs to the sector. 

No-one is better placed than the industry to give the practical advice on these solutions, and I value your expertise and knowledge.

This leads me to organic waste.

Organic waste includes timber from construction and demotion, which – like other organic waste streams – generates emissions as it breaks down in landfill.

The Government has prioritised investment towards recycling and recovering value from a range of different organic wastes.  

Reducing organic waste, including food waste, is also very important.

I know this is something close to everyone’s hearts.  

Food waste also comes back to the cost of living – in 2023, it was estimated that the value of wasted food in New Zealand was $3.2 billion.

The same survey indicated that while the amount of wasted food per household has decreased slightly, the value of that wasted food is now higher.

WasteMINZ has again shown admirable leadership in this space, with the successful Love Food Hate Waste campaign now in its eighth year, targeting the important area of food waste reduction in households. 

Plastic is versatile, hygienic, lightweight, flexible and highly durable. 

Plastic is part of our everyday lives.

But while plastics have made major positive contributions to human health and welfare, too often plastic products are not designed to be re-used or to be recycled, and end up as litter in the environment, including in the marine environment.

It creates vast volumes of waste, in turn directly affecting our environment.

On the international stage, New Zealand is joining with the global community to develop a treaty that aims to end plastic pollution – an ambitious, groundbreaking agreement aimed at tackling plastic pollution on a global scale.  

New Zealand has been actively engaged in negotiations, most recently at the latest round of negotiations, which took place in Ottawa last month. 

There’s much work being done domestically, too. 

In New Zealand, are working to reduce our domestic waste and improve our recycling.

We’re also working to support initiatives to manage hard-to-recycle plastics.

In addition, the Government is committed to making sure supply chains take responsibility for their part in producing waste, including plastic waste.

This leads me to product stewardship, and the role it plays in reducing some of our most problematic waste.

That’s why we are progressing with industry-led product stewardship schemes. 

I am conscious of the work undertaken by many sector and industry groups across the product stewardship schemes currently under development. 

Through no small effort, the long-awaited tyres scheme is now in place. 

I want to recognise the ongoing work around the plastic packaging product stewardship scheme and the draft design that is in the pipeline.

Others including refrigerants, farm plastics and agrichemical containers are well advanced in their design. 

I thank all industry players and stakeholders that have been involved in co-design processes for their work and contribution and congratulate everyone involved in landing New Zealand’s product stewardship scheme for tyres.

I understand it has been a “very long road” to get there, well done!

Cabinet will be considering options to support industry-led product stewardship schemes. I will be able to give you more information on this in due course. 

Another area I want to progress is contaminated site remediation, and in particular landfills vulnerable to the effects of severe weather events. 

No-one wants to see another Fox River landfill event, where a 2019 severe storm spread waste along 21 kilometres of riverbed and 51 kilometres of coastline.

This is an area that will require more investment, so we can ensure communities are not stuck dealing with the aftermath of severe weather events that breach old landfill sites.

Remediating vulnerable contaminated sites is vital to protecting our freshwater, soil and marine ecosystems.

We need to be tackling this proactively wherever possible, and I know councils have been asking for more support.

I recently announced $6.6 million in grants to clean up four historic New Zealand landfill and dump sites vulnerable to extreme weather events and coastal erosion. 

The grants, through the Contaminated Sites Remediation Fund, will go towards fixing former landfills and dump sites in Tairāwhiti, Southland, Canterbury and Nelson.

I want to keep up this momentum and see more of these vulnerable landfill sites remediated. 

The Ministry has also launched a project to support regional councils to evaluate the risk to vulnerable landfills. 

This includes a national exposure assessment of landfills vulnerable to extreme weather events, along with a prioritisation tool to help regional councils conduct risk assessments of vulnerable sites in future.

These assessments are fundamental to getting a better picture nationally. 

Understanding the scale and number of vulnerable landfills in a region will help councils to prioritise and plan how they will manage or mitigate the risks.

It will also enable the Government to consider how to best support councils to mitigate the risk or remediate these vulnerable landfills. 

Recent severe weather events such as Cyclone Gabrielle have highlighted the need for resilient waste and resource recovery infrastructure and systems as an essential part of response and recovery to emergencies. 

I would like us to be better placed to respond to this.

I have been working on ways to achieve our priorities for waste, contaminated sites, and wider environmental issues, through a comprehensive waste and hazardous substances work programme, with more announcements coming in this space soon. 

I’d like to take a moment to encourage you to have your say in the Government’s consultation on the second emissions reduction plan, led by the Minister of Climate Change, likely in the coming months.

As the detail of the approach to ERP2 will be the subject of a public consultation process, I cannot provide you with detail today. 

However, I can say Government wants to enable the sector to continue to deliver towards national emissions targets, and recognises the significant efforts and contributions you have already made. 

Despite the amount of waste going to landfill growing, the waste sector has responded in numerous ways to reduce emissions since the requirements for landfill gas capture systems were implemented in 2004 and the sector’s emissions peaked not long after. 

However, climate change is not going away and there is more to do, for waste and more broadly. 

Please do engage with the second emission reduction plan consultation, as it will set the direction out to 2030.

I look forward to your feedback on the Government’s proposals for the second emission reduction plan in due course.

I know you will also be interested to hear more about the Government’s view on waste to energy.

I understand WasteMINZ has asked for a moratorium on waste to energy plants that take municipal waste. 

Today, there are a variety of technologies available for converting waste into energy, from traditional incineration to more advanced methods like gasification and anaerobic digestion plants like the new Ecogas Reporoa facility which is also working towards decarbonising New Zealand’s gas supply.

Some forms of waste to energy already exist in New Zealand.  With support from the Waste Minimisation Fund, Golden Bay Cement has been able to reduce coal use through converting to alternative fuels such as tyres and waste wood.  

Bioenergy in particular has a key role to play in decarbonising New Zealand’s economy.  

However, some forms of waste to energy have greater risks associated with them, which need to be well managed. 

The Government will need to consider what further role this technology could play within New Zealand’s waste management system. 

I’ll touch briefly on two waste-to-energy proposals currently under consideration. 

With regards to the Te Awamutu proposal, I am considering advice on whether to call this in.

The Minister for the Environment may ‘call in’ the decision-making process for resource consents that relate to a ‘proposal of national significance’.

The Waimate waste-to-energy proposal consent has been called in and referred to the Environment Court. 

The consent is currently on hold, and will be publicly notified for submission once more information becomes available. 

I will update you on these proposals in the coming months.

The last thing I want to update you on is my intentions with waste legislation reform.

The previous government announced their plans to review New Zealand’s waste legislation, to make sure it gives us the tools we need to address our waste issues. 

I plan to continue this work. 

My intent is to reform the Waste Minimisation Act 2008 and Litter Act 1979 to ensure we have fit-for-purpose, modern waste legislation that gives us more options and flexibility to reduce and manage waste. 

There are ways to improve our waste legislation to make it more effective. For example: 

  • Creating a modern, effective compliance regime that enables us to regulate in a flexible and proportionate way.
  • A framework for ‘extended producer responsibility’, an environmental policy approach in which a producer’s responsibility for a product is extended to the post-consumer stage of a product’s life cycle. This reform would provide tools and powers so that in the future the Government has an opportunity to introduce different types of EPR schemes for a range of products, through regulations.  The framework would provide enabling provisions for key features of schemes such as identifying roles and responsibilities, placing obligations on parties, financial controls, setting targets for performance and accountability requirements. 
  • Strengthened and expanded regulatory tools for products and materials which could, for example, provide the ability to prescribe certain actions that must be taken at the end-of-life of a product, among other things, and
  • Repealing the Litter Act 1979 and incorporating its provisions into an updated Waste Minimisation Act for effective enforcement tools and better cost recovery mechanisms for littering and dumping of waste. 

I am currently considering advice from officials on options and timings for this reform.

Meaningful change will be multifaceted, and there is much to do. 

It’s vital that we all continue to play a role in finding solutions to our collective waste challenges, and make the most of the opportunities at hand. 

If we do this together, we can help rebuild the economy, improve productivity, protect the environment and help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. 

I want to thank you for making the effort to be here.

I understand MfE officials will be available at a session later this afternoon to provide you with further information.

I’m looking forward to the outcomes from this conference, and I wish you well for all your discussions.

Thank you.