Business leader Rob Fyfe says one casualty of Prime Minister Chris Hipkins’ policy bonfire is disappointing - and puts the country out of step with other countries.
Fyfe, a former Air New Zealand boss and start-up backer, agreed with many aspects of the policy purge, but he says the deferral of the container return scheme was the wrong move.
He is backing a big beverage can-making plant in South Auckland, which had plans for on-shore melting and recycling of used aluminium beverage cans.
“While I support the Government’s decision to rationalise the number of initiatives they are pursuing in light of cost-of-living pressures, we are obviously disappointed the container scheme is a casualty of this review,” he said.
The scheme was not due for implementation for another two to three years and he said all current forecasts suggest the economic landscape will be improving.
It was envisaged empty containers could be recycled for a small refundable deposit of 20c under the scheme, trumpeted by the Government last year as part of a plan to “transform” recycling.
Fyfe is backing Recorp, which he says is well advanced with its plans to establish a state-of-the-art aluminium beverage can manufacturing plant in South Auckland. It is on track to commission stage one of the plant in the last quarter of this year.
Stage two is to introduce on-shore melting and recycling of used aluminium cans, targeted for 2025, which in part had been planned to coincide with the original date the Government had for the introduction of the container return scheme.
Fyfe said currently all the aluminium cans discarded in kerbside refuse or public litter bins end up in landfill or are sent off-shore to be recycled.
Deposit return schemes for drinks - where consumers pay a deposit when they buy a beverage that is redeemed when returned to a retailer or recycling centre - are common overseas.
Fyfe said Recorp remained committed to improving New Zealander’s recycling of aluminium beverage containers and establishing a fully circular aluminium beverage can business model through Recorp, a $100m-plus project.
“Notwithstanding the Government’s decision to deprioritise this initiative, we are confident that we can source sufficient cans to support our business … but we would like to see New Zealand do better in reducing our mountains of landfill.”
When Hipkins ditched the scheme last week he said the Government didn’t want to be imposing additional costs at the moment. The policy remains on the agenda and will be assessed when it is the right time to do so.
However, the deferral of the recycling plan has come under more scrutiny after RNZ yesterday revealed Hipkins’ new chief of staff, Andrew Kirton, had worked for a lobbying firm that pushed back on the scheme before he took the role in the PM’s office. Kirton worked for the New Zealand arm of Anacta - which lobbied the Government on behalf of Asahi, Lion and Coca-Cola - resigning just one day before his chief of staff role was announced.
A spokesman for Hipkins told RNZ that it was Environment Minister David Parker who proposed the deferral of the scheme due to its cost-of-living implication. Kirton played no role in that process and was also not involved in the Cabinet decision around reprioritisation, the spokesman said.
Fyfe said Australia already has a scheme in place in most states and those states that don’t will have a scheme in place by the end of this year.
The Ministry for the Environment says around 1.7 billion beverage containers are stockpiled, littered or end up in landfill each year in New Zealand.
The main aim of a CRS is to collect as many beverage containers as possible so that more containers can be recycled and fewer containers are littered, stockpiled or landfilled.
The ministry said a scheme could increase beverage container recovery to 85 per cent or higher, which means that the scheme could receive over two billion beverage containers annually for recycling.
The deferral of the container return scheme (CRS) has been described as “devastating” by a community campaign, Kiwi Bottle Drive.
“After all the progress, and all the research that has gone into developing a CRS for Aotearoa, it was devastating to hear this popular and much-needed policy has gone on the back burner,” said Olga Darkadaki, campaigner at the Kiwi Bottle Drive.
She said a Kantar/Consumer Link survey in September last year showed 78 per cent of those surveyed support a CRS. Support was so strong that consumers thought the deposit should be set at a higher amount (30c) than the Government’s proposed 20c.
“A CRS was deprioritised based on the argument that it will increase costs to households during the cost-of-living crisis, but what that misses is that our current recycling system costs more per container than a CRS would, and delivers worse outcomes,” said Darkadaki.