Waste sector on 'cusp of big shift'

Conservation Minister and Green Party MP Eugenie Sage. Photo: NZME
Conservation Minister and Green Party MP Eugenie Sage. Photo: NZME
Grassroots groups and the Government came together in Queenstown on Friday night to talk about local environmental issues and national policy.

Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage spoke at length to members of various Wakatipu environmental groups and activists during an evening of "Kai and Conversations" at the Queenstown Bowling Club.

Ms Sage said there was "a huge need for change" in the waste sector.

"We've had years of very little thought about what happens to products at the end of their lives, very little thought about a circular economy, but we're now on the cusp of a big shift there."

Ms Sage spoke at the Plastics New Zealand conference earlier that day. She said designers were now thinking about the circular economy at the start of the process

"what materials are being used, how can they be recovered and reused".

The event was hosted by Sustainable Queenstown, which includes various initiatives such as "Dishrupt", which aims to stop the use of single-use plastics at events.

Ms Sage used that as an example of good grassroots work which had been crucial to changing political will across various environmental areas.

She said her priority was increasing the landfill tax.

"It's only $10 a ton, which doesn't really create an incentive to divert waste from landfill, and only applies to 11% of our more than 400 landfills.

"We want to ensure it applies to all landfills, to raise the rate progressively, so there'll be a discussion document in the next two months to see public submissions on that.

"Why that is important is all the revenue raised from the landfill tax goes into the Waste Minimisation Fund, and that funds community organisations, progressive business and councils to do waste-minimisation work."

It raised about $30million a year at present, half of which went to councils.

The Queenstown Lakes District Council signed a new waste services contract recently to improve its recycling rates. About 54,000 new bins are being delivered and from July 1 glass, recyclables and landfill will be collected separately.

China's initiative to ban waste from other countries was creating "some problems here, but also a huge opportunity" and money from the increased tax could be used to increase New Zealand's ability to re-process its own waste, Ms Sage.

The Government was also investigating product stewardship schemes for tyres, e-batteries, refrigerants and agri-chemicals, and also a container deposit scheme.

Ms Sage said she was "overawed" by the number of predator-control groups in the Wakatipu.

"That's what inspires me, that so many New Zealanders are now getting really enthusiastic about protecting our indigenous plants and wildlife through getting involved and controlling the predators, which are one of the major threats."

Children's author and songwriter Craig Smith, of Wonky Donkey fame, paid for the venue and also sang.

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