Tackling the mountain of waste going to New Zealand's landfills is the focus of a new programme of work announced by the Green Party today.
Among options to cut the millions of tonnes of waste ending up in landfills each year is forcing companies to take more responsibility for the harmful waste they produce, and expanding the landfill levy to more sites.
"Little action over the past decade has seen volumes of waste going to landfill increase and New Zealand has been left woefully unprepared for the impact of international events, like China's decision to close its borders to the world's low-quality recyclables, Associate Environment Minister Eugenie Sage said.
Sage made the announcement at the Greens' annual general meeting in Palmerston North today.
The work, led by the Ministry for the Environment, will look at whether to implement more voluntary and mandatory product stewardship schemes for products such as tyres, e-waste starting with lithium batteries, agrichemicals and synthetic greenhouse gases.
There are only 15 voluntary product stewardship schemes at present, for products like glass and agrichemical containers.
"I want to include some mandatory product stewardship schemes in that mix, starting with tyres. New Zealand creates 4.6 million end-of-life tyres each year. Right now, an estimated 70 per cent of them are either stockpiled, sent to landfill, or illegally dumped," Sage said.
The work will also look at expanding the waste disposal levy to more landfills and increasing the levy.
There have been calls to increase the $10 a tonne levy, which applies to only around 11 per cent of waste disposal facilities, to as much as $140 a tonne.
Research by the ministry has shown that around 10 per cent of the 10.5 million tonnes of waste dumped each year from levied landfills was recovered or recycled instead of being dumped in the ground.
Sage said construction and demolition waste accounted for an estimated 85 per cent of the waste stream but the levy applied to mostly metropolitan landfills.
The expanded levy and increased price per tonne is likely to come into force in early 2020, following public consultation.
The work will also look at requiring landfill operators to report on the composition and quantity of waste, and obtaining data from councils and the private sector on how much is reduced, reused and recycled.
Analysis is being done on where money should be spent helping businesses minimise waste, increasing local processing capacity for recyclables and providing local jobs. It is also looking at areas where waste can be significantly reduced and where changes in the supply chain can help.
"This work will generate a world-leading step change in how we manage waste in New Zealand. This leadership will accelerate the long overdue shift to a circular approach to the economy and help to create a sustainable, productive and inclusive economy," Sage said.
Waste minimisation is a key policy area for the Greens. Last week Sage and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced the Government's intention to phase out single-use plastic bags within a year.
The waste industry has said a crisis is looming if action is not taken to deal with the recycling piling up in New Zealand as a result.
"We're at a tipping point – the point where we need to stop so much going to the tip," Sage said in her speech on the announcement at the AGM.
"New Zealanders send an average of 734kg of waste each to landfill each year. That figure has been increasing. It's partly due to economic growth and our increasing population, but also to our consumption based, throwaway culture."