Recycling sector warns Government the system is broken

New Zealand's recycling sector is warning it is in crisis and the Government needs to help.

WasteMINZ chief executive Paul Evans said: "Without positive action to address the issue, recyclable material could be sent to landfill, councils and communities will suffer financially, and operators could go out of business."

It follows China, a major buyer of recycled materials, adding new restrictions on the recycling it imports. This has caused demand and prices to drop, and is putting a strain on how New Zealand deals with mixed paper and mixed plastic recycling in particular.

New Zealand had been sending 15 million kg of recycling to China each year, mainly mixed paper and plastics.

China now requires these materials to have very low levels of contamination that the country's kerbside recycling systems aren't able to meet.

Associate Minister for the Environment Eugenie Sage says she's begun the process of setting up a task force to deal with the implications of China's restrictions.

"The ban has had deeper impacts than anticipated and the recycling sector is facing rising pressure from the significant drop in global commodity prices. It is clear that this situation is not sustainable," she said.

"Several small stockpiles of recyclable materials have been building around the country, where smaller operators don’t have ready access to alternative markets."

A WasteMINZ survey found 82 percent of councils surveyed are struggling with the Chinese restrictions on 3 - 7 plastics, and are selling them at lower prices, stockpiling them or struggling to find buyers.

"The current system is fundamentally broken," its report Rebooting Recycling - What can Aotearoa do? warns.

"It relies on councils and recyclers reacting to and cleaning up whatever materials producers decide to put on the market. It requires enormous effort to achieve good clean streams of useable material  and this is not always possible."

The report says the current model is not economically sustainable, and is far too supply driven. Materials are collected because of a public desire for recycling, but the demand for the materials is not necessarily there.

WasteMINZ has listed a number of actions it wants the Government to consider. Short term actions include a Ministerial initiated funding stream for councils and operators, a public awareness program about recycling, communications, and better quality industry-wide data on recyclable materials.

In the long term it wants the New Zealand Waste Strategy to be revised, changes to the way councils use waste disposal levies, product stewardship and design regulations about new products,and ongoing public communications and education.