NZ government announces container return scheme

Plastic bottles pictured in front of Return and Earn reverse vending machine in Peakhurst, NSW, Australia, on September 1, 2018

Industry groups welcomed the New Zealand government’s announcement that work is underway to develop a beverage container return scheme nationwide.

Associate Minister for the Environment Eugenie Sage said citizens, councils and stakeholders have been calling for a well designed container return scheme to recover the millions of beverage containers used each year so they can be re-used and recycled.

The scheme, according to Sage, would require beverage containers, such as plastic PET bottles, to carry a refundable deposit, for example 10 to 20 cents (or more). The deposit is redeemed when the container is returned to a collection depot or other drop-off point.

“Today I’m pleased to announce that work is underway to design a fit-for-purpose scheme for New Zealand,” Sage said at the WasteMINZ Conference in Hamilton yesterday.

Sage said a container return scheme would change the way New Zealanders see beverage containers.

“They would again become something of value, and we would see increased recycling and new opportunities for refilling,” she said. “When consumers recycle their drink bottles, they would get a deposit back, which incentivises higher recycling rates.”

The Ministry for the Environment is working on the design and development of a national CRS together with the Auckland Council and Marlborough District Council, as well as representatives from the beverage, packaging and recycling industries, councils, retailers, charitable organisations, Māori, consumer representatives and product stewardship groups.

The project is supported by nearly $1 million ($966,000) from the Ministry’s Waste Minimisation Fund, and a comprehensive proposal is expected to be presented to the government by August 2020.

Project manager George Fietje said that, subject to government approval, the scheme could be ready for implementation in 2022.

“Overseas results have shown that a much higher percentage of materials are recovered and recycled when a return scheme is in place, alongside kerbside recycling,” Fietje said.

“It also keeps useful resources out of landfills and our environment, and creates new jobs and other benefits for local communities.

“Placing a value on containers means people ‘return and earn’ instead of disposing of containers, and councils receive a cleaner, less contaminated stream of recyclables.”

Sage said the scheme is the latest step in the government’s plan to recharge New Zealand’s recycling system.

“What we are announcing is an agreement to start the investigation and design stage for a CRS or container return scheme learning from the best international models but designed to meet New Zealand’s geographic and societal needs,” she said.

An estimated two billion glass, plastic, aluminium, paperboard and other single-use drink containers are consumed each year in New Zealand. While many containers are recovered and recycled, too many others end up in landfills, or as litter on streets and in streams, the beach and other public spaces.

There are now at least 40 CRS schemes operating globally. Most Australian states have a CRS as do parts of Europe and the United States.

Sage said the project would look at overseas schemes and the latest technology in developing a CRS design for New Zealand. It would also seek alignment with Te Tiriti o Waitangi and Te Ao Māori and potential climate change benefits.

Sage said one of the considerations in designing a national CRS would be how it will affect existing kerbside collections. Kerbside collections would not disappear, but a scheme is expected to affect the types and amounts of recyclables collected.

“A well designed beverage container return scheme would be a win for consumers, the environment, councils, and recycling industries,” she said.

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