Find out more about why these changes are happening
Can you explain why New Zealand can't recycle other numbers all of a sudden?
The need for this has come about due to the recent collapse of international recycling markets, which is a nationwide problem. Due to the lack of markets for difficult-to-recycle plastics, most New Zealand councils are cutting back on the range of plastic types they accept for recycling in their kerbside collections. Work is underway nationally to standardise kerbside collections and central government is drawing up policies to promote a more circular economy, through product stewardship, container deposit schemes and increased investment in recycling infrastructure. Click here to see more information.
At a national level, the NZ government is also working to ban single-use plastics and hard-to-recycle plastics, including many plastics made from types 3,4, 6 & 7 and our region (along with most other Councils in New Zealand) is aligning with this national direction. Click here to find out more information.
Prior to 2018, 50% of the world’s waste plastic went to China or Indonesia for recycling. Much of this material, particularly the mixed plastic bales, mainly comprised of plastic types 3, 4, 6 and 7, was highly contaminated with general waste, and/or contained plastic that was in poor condition and unsuitable for recycling. This resulted in a large rubbish disposal problem, as well as the associated environmental impacts, for China, Indonesia and other countries that previously accepted this kind of waste. Once the materials have left New Zealand shores there is no guarantee that these products will be recycled in an appropriate and environmentally sustainable manner. Harmful and inappropriate disposal practices have been uncovered by investigative journalists and environmentalists including burning, dumping in poorly managed landfills or littering into the environment where they can then enter the ocean and pose a risk to marine life and water quality. This gained worldwide media attention and peaked public interest in recycling and waste, e.g., see this Stuff story 'Recycling Plastic Dumped Overseas'
To address this problem, in August 2017, the Chinese Government announced their intention to restrict the importation of 24 categories of solid waste products from around the world including all plastics, because of environmental impacts and risks to public health. This Chinese policy came into effect 1 January 2018, with further restrictions in early 2019, which means China is no longer accepting imports of these solid wastes for recycling purposes. Click here to find out more information.
The future of national and international recycling markets for mixed plastic is uncertain with no improvements likely in the foreseeable future. While there are markets and processing options both overseas and within New Zealand for plastic Types 1, 2 and 5, international recycling options for mixed plastic (Types 3, 4, 6, 7) are now non-existent and there are no large-scale processing facilities in New Zealand for these mixed plastic bales.
Over the last 12 months, options for alternative recycling options for these bales of mixed plastic have been investigated by Council. Last year, a plastic asphalt mix road trial was undertaken in collaboration with Downer and EnviroWaste Services Ltd. Based on that trial, further work has been done to improve the performance of the asphalt plastic mix and a second trial was planned for June, although it may not be economically viable for the long-term, and it will not provide an immediate solution for the Taranaki region.
The issues the Council are having with recycling mixed plastic are not unique to Taranaki. Many other councils in New Zealand have already made the decision to reduce the range of plastic types accepted as part of their kerbside services. Of the 67 councils, about 55% do not accept plastic Types 3, 4, 6 or 7 anymore. About 70% of councils accept Type 5 plastics and all councils accept Type 1 and 2 plastics. Central Government, in acknowledgement of this, have a significant a work plan in place to address the hard to recycle plastics through policy and the establishment of resource recovery infrastructure, although delivery of this is still several years away.
NZ has one of the highest rates of per capita waste production in the developed world, and as a country we need to seriously look at our waste and purchasing habits. Too much of the plastic packaging and items we make are used only once and then thrown away, ending up in landfills both here and overseas.
The Rethinking Plastics in Aotearoa New Zealand report, produced by the Office of the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor, paints a vision for a new future. This future will be based on best-practice being standard practice, reuse being the new norm, single-use and hard-to-recycle plastics being phased out of use completely, and a New Zealand where significantly less plastic enters our environment as waste and litter. It will take more than just one action to make this change.
A long-term behaviour shift around waste and better purchasing choices is required across several years and through the collective effort of individuals, communities, industry and business, academics, scientists and innovators, iwi, local and central government.
 Source: WasteMINZ as at April 2020.