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Kiwi recycling finds new momentum

NZ recycling entrepreneurs at Metalcorp.

Recycling in New Zealand is crawling up again after a slump of many years. ‘New Zealand is just a drop in the ocean,’ one recycler told Recycling International, ‘but to us, it’s our precious “recycling drop”.’

The number of waste incineration plants in New Zealand is precisely – zero. The reason is that the country has only four million inhabitants and boasts much spare land away from the cities and villages. Why build costly incineration plants when, since 2008, the landfill levy has been hardly unchanged at around NZ$10 (EUR 6) per tonne?

Landfill sites are declining, however, with a government report back in 2004 noting the 1995 total of 327 had gone down to 115. Although the Ministry for the Environment does not have data for total waste generated or the proportion of resources diverted from landfill, it is known that the country’s recycling industry recovers hundreds of thousands of tonnes.

Local decisions, national funding

Under the Waste Minimisation Act, recycling is the responsibility of local councils. Central government has a waste minimisation fund that pays for projects promoting or achieving resource efficiency, reuse, recovery and recycling – or cutting waste-to-landfill.

The schemes include working with industry to cut plastic waste and developing a national circular economy strategy. The ministry is currently assessing options for mandatory product stewardship for problematic waste streams – comparable with the European directives on certain waste streams. These include, among others, end-of-life tyres, e-waste and lithium ion batteries. Collectively, such schemes have diverted more than 1.3 million tonnes of waste from landfill.

Reliance on exports

New Zealand is a net exporter of recycled materials, notably to Southeast Asia, India, Pakistan, Indonesia and Vietnam. The decision of the Chinese government to restrict or even ban imports of low-grade material is also affecting New Zealand’s exports of recyclables.

Richard Harrison, chairman of the New Zealand metals recycling association SMRANZ, eyes the future of metal recycling in his country as prosperous and healthy. And yet, he has his reservations. ‘New Zealand is losing a lot of manufacturing and our industrial production has fallen dramatically over the decades. But it is surprising that scrap volumes have not really dropped off at all, we are still seeing material stock coming in. I really have no explanation for that.’

Want to know more about recycling in New Zealand? Stay tuned for our upcoming country report, written by former editor-in-chief Manfred Beck.

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