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The New Zealand recycling sector is in crises. Today the Rebooting Recycling discussion paper calls on Associate Environment Minister Eugenie Sage to take urgent action to find solutions and create a circular economy in Aotearoa. The paper outlines a range of both short and long-term actions the Government should consider.

Why do we have a recycling crisis?

The market for recycled materials has collapsed because China is no longer accepting the quantity of material for recycling that they used to.  The reduction in demand has seen prices for recyclable materials fall dramatically.  Sellers of these commodities have sought other markets, but there is not sufficient capacity currently in the plants outside of China to process all the materials.  This has meant stockpiles are building up around the country and some material may not be able to find an end market.

What is proposed?

In early May a group of key stakeholders from New Zealand’s recycling sector met to share their experiences and to provide information, which has helped to inform this discussion.

There was universal agreement that the collapse in international recycling markets has left the recycling sector in New Zealand in a vulnerable position. Without decisive 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.

Urgent action is needed from the Government; because this issue will not resolve quickly or by itself. Short-term fixes, while important, will not be enough.


Actions that need to happen now include:

  • access to funding, to ensure recyclables aren’t sent to landfill
  • facilitating national communications to enable better consumer decision making, and
  • gathering better data on recyclable materials

Other actions that will take longer, but that will help build a more robust system and deliver a more circular economy include:

  • revising the national waste strategy,
  • changes to the waste disposal levy,
  • product stewardship and design regulations,
  • good practice recycling collection guidance,
  • ongoing public communications, and
  • a positive approach to public sector procurement of recycled products

While there is a lot to do, everything that has been set out in this discussion paper can be achieved using existing funding sources and legislation.  Furthermore, the sector is engaged and willing to work with the Government to ensure these things happen.

Finally, this crisis also represents an opportunity to build a new system that can deliver better outcomes for our communities, our environment, and our economy. Together we can reboot recycling and create a circular economy for Aotearoa.

Paul Evans

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