Greens want Minister for Zero Waste, take more shots at Labour's policy 'error'

The Greens are promising to push for a Minister for Zero Waste if they're part of the next government and reverse the "error" of deferring work on the container return scheme.

"A beverage container return scheme is win-win for people and nature," environment spokesperson Eugenie Sage said on Wednesday. "Avoiding plastic pollution and reducing waste costs for councils and communities is a 'bread and butter' issue."

The container return scheme was one of several policies either scrapped or postponed as part of the Government's latest reprioritisation move on Monday.

It was meant to incentivise Kiwis to recycle. A refundable deposit (about 20 cents or more) would be included in the purchase price of bottles, cans and other beverage containers. Consumers could get this money back by returning the container to a specified recycling drop-off.

It wasn't likely to start until at least 2025, but some modelling found it could lead to additional costs for households of between $78 and $103 a year, even if they return all their containers for a refund.

"The evidence overseas shows that this does help to reduce waste," Prime Minister Chris Hipkins said on Monday.

"However, it’s also estimated to add small additional costs to households, and we don’t want to be imposing those additional costs right at the moment. This policy does remain on the agenda, and we will look to assess it again in the future when the time is right to do so."

Eugenie Sage.
Eugenie Sage. Photo credit: Newshub.

The Greens, however, cannot "see any sound reason why Labour has kicked the recyclable can down the road on this".

It could prevent 1.7 million plastic and glass bottles, cartons and aluminium cans ending up in landfills or as litter on streets and beaches, or in oceans, said Sage.

"A beverage container return scheme is hugely popular, so it cannot have been to score popularity points.

"The benefits far outweighed the costs, so it cannot have been for budget reasons. And the cost implications of the scheme for households are small, so it cannot have been for cost of living reasons."

She said the Greens would reverse the "error" if they're part of the next government and also seek to have a Minister for Zero Waste with a focus on avoiding waste to landfill and increasing materials reuse and recycling.

"If the current Labour Cabinet is unwilling to take the most basic actions to reduce plastic pollution and avoid waste going to landfill, then we need more Green Ministers at the decision-making table - including a new Minister for Zero Waste."

The Government has taken several steps to tackle plastic pollution, including a ban on some hard-to-recycle and single-use plastics. More plastic products are planned to be phased out from July 2023 and additional products from mid-2025. In 2019, most single-use plastic shopping bags were banned by the Government.

The Green Party has a cooperation agreement with the Labour Party which sets out how the two parties work together and also the ministerial roles for the two Green co-leaders.

One area of cooperation is "taking action to minimise waste and problem plastics".

Hipkins on Tuesday denied Labour had broken the agreement by deferring the container return scheme to another day, but Greens' co-leader and Climate Change Minister James Shaw said the Greens would be talking to Hipkins about it.