As Kiwi’s we pride ourselves on our inventive nature and resilience, there’s nothing that can’t be fixed with some cable ties or a few wraps of electrical tape. We challenge on the world stage through grit, sheer determination, and unfailing optimism. And we do bloody well punching above our weight. Add to this, we live in a natural paradise, 100% Pure & Clean, abundant oceans, rivers and lakes, endless resources and opportunities, the adventure capital of the world. We are surely living in the chosen land. Aren’t we?
It’s time for a reality check, it’s time we had a closer look at ourselves and our actions. Whether we admit it or not, we are all part of a resource heavy, consumption prone and wasteful society. The average Kiwi has a resource footprint 4 to 5 times that of developing nations. Our cousins over the ditch have an alarming average footprint 6 to 7 times that of developing nations. In this series, we will provide short insights into significant resource issues we face in New Zealand. The aim is to ignite informed discussion on real sustainability in New Zealand, providing information to allow all of us to make clear choices on our journey towards sustainability.
Issue 1: Plastic Recycling in New Zealand
There has been recent media attention on the recycling of plastics in New Zealand, or more correctly the lack of it. Of the 7 grades of plastic collected in New Zealand, 4 types are not worth recycling and are redirected to landfill. These include milk and juice cartons, Styrofoam cups, meat and food trays, take away trays and cutlery. Of the 3 grades that are recycled a proportion of them are rejected due to contamination.
Almost 10% of the 3 million tonnes of waste sent to landfill in New Zealand each year is plastic. Once you get your head around that you need to know that there is virtually no industry in New Zealand around the reuse of recycled plastic. Those plastics that are successfully recycled in New Zealand were being shipped to China and now to Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia. In the first quarter of 2017, alone, 2.7 million kilos of recycled plastic was shipped offshore. Those figures have dropped significantly as China has banned the imports and the international price for used plastic has dropped dramatically. This has led to recycling stations across the country stockpiling plastics hoping for new international destinations and an increased return. If conditions don't improve it is likely the only option will be to dispose of stockpiled plastic to the landfill.
In a global sense, the shipping of recycled materials offshore where often that material has been imported into New Zealand in the first place is a false economy. Any environmental savings in recycling plastic are seriously reduced, if not completely outweighed due to the carbon footprint of that well-traveled plastic bottle. This is a multi-level issue. We need to move away from the linear model of "take, make and waste" and adopt a circular model where resource lifespans are maximized. But it's not just about manufacturers and industry, it’s about our consumer habits, it’s about reduction and reuse, it’s about closing the circle and establishing industry here in New Zealand that utilises and remanufactures our plastics.
The question is – What needs to change to make use of recycled plastics in New Zealand?