Political ecologists cheer new waste management rules  


Used tyres are among products included in the Government's new waste management declaration (photo/David Edelstein-Unsplash)



Dr Trisia Farrelly




Massey University’s Political Ecology Research Centre is delighted by Government’s decision to declare plastic packaging, tyres, electrical and electronic products (e-waste), agrichemicals and their containers, refrigerants, and farm plastics as “priority products” for waste management.

The Ministry for the Environment invited Dr Trisia Farrelly, an environmental anthropologist in the School of People, Environment and Planning and Co-Director of the centre, to speak at the launch of its new policy at Remarkit (a green IT and e-waste recycling company) in Porirua.

The announcement by Associate Environment Minister Eugenie Sage is part of the government's $124 million waste reduction scheme, which hopes to reduce the tonnes of waste that goes to landfill every year. The new policy announced this week aims to shift the burden of waste management from councils and communities back to those who make the products. 

“Mandatory product stewardship of these products will create a level playing field for producers and eliminate opportunities for ‘free riding’ as we have seen in the past,” Dr Farrelly says.

“Product stewardship puts greater responsibility on those who make and use products to reduce the waste and other environmental harms these products may cause over their life-cycle, “she adds. “The declaration means that regulated product stewardship schemes must now be developed for each of the declared priority products.”

She described the announcement as “an historic moment in Aotearoa’s waste management legislation. Until now, not one product has been declared a priority product under the Waste Minimisation Act (WMA) since it was passed in 2008. This has meant that all product stewardship schemes have been voluntary until now, and we know these have not been successful as New Zealand is acknowledged as one of the most wasteful countries in the world.”

“One of the exciting things about regulated product stewardship schemes is that, if well-designed, they can incentivise carbon neutral production, bio and eco-benign products, alternative delivery systems which can eliminate the need for more materials or packaging altogether, and can dramatically reduce the variety of problematic materials flowing into and through our economy and entering our ecosystems.”

The declaration this week will make it a lot easier for New Zealand to meet its national targets and regional and international obligations (including to reduce ozone-depleting substances, carbon emissions, and persistent organic pollutants), Dr Farrelly says. 

“It will also help us to produce clean, sorted and high value post-consumption materials which will attract international markets.  Essentially, it could vastly improve our reputation as a country that reduces and takes care of its own rubbish rather than dumping it elsewhere.”

She says that mandatory product stewardship “ensures the true cost of a product is reflected in the purchase price. Until now these costs have been born by ratepayers, local authorities and the environment. Making the declarations is only step one. The next step is to develop ambitious schemes that focus at the top of the zero waste hierarchy at prevention, reduction, re-use, re-design, and repair.”

She says future-oriented, innovative and ambitious schemes must be co-designed to include tangata whenua, local and central government, industry, non-governmental organisations, recyclers and zero waste experts, as well as community and consumer representatives.

“Regardless of the work ahead, Massey’s Political Ecology Research Centre (PERC) is celebrating as it means we are one more step closer to a zero waste economy for Aotearoa.”

Dr Farrelly is on the steering committee of the New Zealand Product Stewardship Council, and is a passionate campaigner for reducing single-use plastics as well as being a member of several national and international policy bodies dedicated to protecting the environment from plastic pollution (including Aotearoa Plastic Pollution Alliance, New Zealand’s national Container Return Scheme Design Working Group, the United Nations Environment Programme’s Expert Group and Scientific Advisory Committee (marine litter and microplastics), and the Break Free From Plastic Movement. 

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