Last week the Government released "Te kawe i te haepapa para, Taking responsibility for our waste, Proposals for a new waste strategy" from the Minister for the Environment, more simply known as the "Waste Strategy".
The Waste Strategy is a highly cogent consultation document and logically well ordered. At this highest level it outlines the main contours and direction of travel for the Waste Strategy and the attempt to transition, or transform, if one prefers, to a circular economy. For a government with the strong centralising tendencies of this one, waste is the new frontier for heavy regulation and legislative change driven out of Wellington.
A significant point to note is that feedback on the Waste Strategy closes on Friday 26 November. Submissions on the Emission Reduction Plan close on 24 November. Having delayed the release of the Emission Reduction Plan because COVID would limit effective consultation the Government has now released two significant documents within days and required responses to both in a little over a month.
Specifically, the consultation document – which this version of the Waste Strategy represents – is seeking feedback on:
The Government has laid out 43 questions for feedback. These questions cover the call for change; the proposed new waste strategy; dimensions of any waste legislation; legislative support for product stewardship schemes; improving regulatory tools to encourage change; how to make best use of the waste levy; and, improving compliance, monitoring and enforcement.
Acumen is happy to assist you with the writing or review of any submissions.
In detail: Background Context for Biogenic Methane Reductions
Where We’ve Come From
The Strategy for the Strategy
The Vision driving the Strategy
Three Stages of Environmental Recovery
The Role of Legislation in Informing and Driving the Strategy
Long-term Strategic Approaches, Te Tiriti & the Strategy
Product Stewardship, Legislation and the Strategy
The Role of Regulation
The Strategy and the Waste Levy & Miscellaneous
When it comes to biogenic methane, the starting point is to remind oneself how the reduction of biogenic methane component of waste fits into the Government’s legislatively mandated target for methane reductions, as outlined in the Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon) Amendment Act 2019:
5QTarget for 2050
(1) The target for emissions reduction (the 2050 target) requires that—
(a) net accounting emissions of greenhouse gases in a calendar year, other than biogenic methane, are zero by the calendar year beginning on 1 January 2050 and for each subsequent calendar year; and
(b) emissions of biogenic methane in a calendar year—
(i) are 10% less than 2017 emissions by the calendar year beginning on 1 January 2030; and
(ii) are 24% to 47% less than 2017 emissions by the calendar year beginning on 1 January 2050 and for each subsequent calendar year.
(2) The 2050 target will be met if emissions reductions meet or exceed those required by the target.
(3) In this section, 2017 emissions means the emissions of biogenic methane for the calendar year beginning on 1 January 2017.
During the Coalition Government, parties in the coalition worked from the basis that the biogenic methane component of waste accounted for 11 percent of total methane emissions. In the Waste Strategy, that is now calculated at nine percent (9.1 percent).
There are two points to make about this. The first is the inter-dependency that is unstated but nevertheless exists between biogenic methane reductions in waste, and those emanating from the agriculture sector. Second, it’s a further reminder than on climate change policy, the government’s policy position and response is never static.
This is further evidenced in the Climate Change Commission’s Final Advice, where the waste target to decrease biogenic waste methane emissions was significantly increased from 15 to 40 percent by 2035.
So, in terms of reducing biogenic methane, there is a tension between agriculture and other sectors. They are not, strictly speaking, independent of each other as both inform our legislatively mandated biogenic methane target. Point being is that the sectors most affected by waste emissions reduction have an interest in how stringent or loose the agricultural sector’s biogenic methane reduction targets are once the He Waka Eke Noa partnership results in agreement, something to keep a watching brief on over the coming weeks and months.
The other macro-level advice from reading the Waste Strategy is to remember that the Minister of Climate Change asked the Climate Change Commission to also report on the methane target.
As you will be aware, the Climate Change (Zero Carbon) Amendment Act 2019 splits methane from other greenhouse gases. New Zealand is unique in doing so and there is an emerging international perception that New Zealand should conform to the international orthodoxy (for the latest in this line of argument, see: https://www.newsroom.co.nz/nz-is-massively-on-the-back-foot-on-methane).
Given what we already know about the Minister’s preference, as a reluctant supporter of our split gas approach, it will be interesting if the current position survives any post-election negotiation between Labour and Green Party’s in 2023 if this coalition option is favoured by voters (NB.: on current polling it is).
Given the long wait for the Waste Strategy there is still plenty of politics to flow before the final strategy is released. It is anticipated that it will be published in mid-2022. The strategy also signals that the consultation document – which this version of the Waste Strategy represents – is seeking feedback on:
One point to note is that Cabinet has not fully committed to new waste minimisation legislation. In the section entitled ‘Next Steps’ (p.9), the paragraph on proposed legislation begins, “If the Government decides to go ahead with new waste legislation, a Bill will be introduced to Parliament later in 2022.” That Bill, if it proceeds, will then go through a full Select Committee process.
We will speak to the Minister’s Office about why the conditional statement and report back. It could be as simple as the Cabinet not having any legislation before it to consider, so the Minister doesn’t want to pre-empt his colleagues’ Cabinet decisions. Certainly, much of the strategy is concerned with legislative and regulatory change, but we will seek clarity on this point.
The significant point to note from the consultation section of the strategy (pp. 8-10) is that feedback on the ‘Waste Strategy’ closes on Friday 26 November so you will need to prepare their submissions with this deadline in mind. Acumen is happy to assist you with the writing or review of any submissions.
The Government has also offered to help (or prompt or shape) submitters by laying out some 43 questions for feedback (see pp. 81-82). These questions cover the call for change; the proposed new waste strategy; dimensions of any waste legislation; legislative support for product stewardship schemes; improving regulatory tools to encourage change; how to make best use of the waste levy; and, improving compliance, monitoring and enforcement.
Part I of the Waste Strategy lays out the waste challenge to the country, moving from ‘take-make-dispose’ habit to one underpinned by ‘make-use-return’ in other words, a circular economy (pp. 11-20).
The Strategy traverses the current waste situation in New Zealand; we’re among the highest generators of waste per capita in the developed world; the opportunity costs of not making more of the waste economy; a lack of data, which leaves gaps in understanding the quality if not quantity of waste types; and issues associated with legacy waste sites and the contamination of them.
It is then laid out how we are beginning to catch up, through:
The strategy is seen by government as increasing our ambition as a country, signalling the country’s direction of travel and priorities, and inspiring change across different groups of New Zealanders.
The strategy also points out that work on getting good information and analysis, having shorter-term implementation plans, having effective regulatory tools to drive change, and having effective system-level evaluation and reporting, are workstreams already underway through the previously released ‘Waste reduction work programme(s).’
Accentuated is that alongside the strategy the Government is working on a concurrent waste infrastructure plan, due to be finalised at the same time as the final waste strategy. Both will then inform the Government’s first Action and Investment Plan, plans which will then be developed every two to three years.
The vision driving the strategy is threefold:
Six principles fall out of the Government’s waste vision:
The strategy sets out three stages to achieving carbon zero by 2050 goal. In the first stage – 2022-30: Catching Up – the strategy is designed to sow the seeds for transformational change, bring our resource recovery systems up to global standards, and reduce emissions from waste, as is legally mandated in the Climate Change (Zero Carbon) Amendment Act 2019. This stage can be described as building the foundation for the envisaged transformational change and then driving that change.
In stage one, six priorities have been identified:
The second stage – 2030-40: Pushing Ahead – sees increasing support and pressure for widespread changes in mindsets, systems, and behaviour, optimising the resource recovery system for growing circular systems, and for major efforts to remediate and regenerate.
By 2040, if the strategy remains intact after six more General Elections, the third stage – 2040-50: Embedding a new normal – will embed and integrate our circular systems and behaviours across society, do the same to resource recovery systems and build regeneration into systems of production and use.
Priorities for the out-decades of the 2030s and 2040s (Phases 2 & 3) have not been developed.
This part of the Waste Strategy certainly signals the Government’s intention to move forward with legislation. A review of the Waste Minimisation Act 2008 (WMA) and the Litter Act 1979 will result in new legislation. The Government has signalled that new Acts or Amendment Acts will:
New legislation will also update and incorporate the Litter Act and reframe how litter is thought of and managed. It will also be aligned with Resource Management Act changes.
The Government has moved aggressively on advancing treaty issues across policy domains – whether through treaty principles or in co-governance models – since it was re-elected as a single-party majority Government. In the Waste Strategy, it is signalling that the WMA will be changed to incorporate treaty principles, with it being noted that there is currently no explicit references to them in the WMA.
The Minister has been relatively opaque in describing the Government’s intentions here, however, saying only, “We propose that the opening part of the new legislation includes a broad and ambitious purpose statement based on the need to move to a circular economy and minimise waste as part of that shift, supported as needed by guiding principles and references to Te Tiriti. The detailed content of these provisions will be informed by several related pieces of work.”
Legislation is also designed to legislate long-term change in resource use and utilisation, so links with local government planning, reporting requirements to promote transparency, and the Government’s intent in new legislation to set out the roles of Central Government and their agencies, independent bodies, roles and participation of Māori, and roles and responsibilities for local authorities are all out for consultation and feedback to the Government.
The Government sees product stewardship as an important tool in transiting to a circular economy. It is described (on p.57): “The schemes typically work by requiring a fee to be paid when the product first enters the market. The fees are held in a fund and used to ensure products are recycled or safely treated as part of disposal.”
In the Waste Strategy the layered current system for product stewardship in New Zealand is described as (p.57):
It is considered by the Government that broadening the purpose and objectives of product stewardship schemes, streamlining processes, clarifying and strengthening requirements, and supporting them with better enforcement powers will see improvement. The Government here focuses submitter’s feedback on whether new legislation should preserve an option for the accreditation of voluntary product stewardship schemes, asks how the accreditation process for new product stewardship schemes could be strengthened, and asks for any ideas not otherwise discussed in the strategy (p.60).
The Government, judging by the Waste Strategy section looking at ‘Enhancing regulatory tools to encourage change’, is committed to major regulatory reform. For clients interested in container return schemes, recycling, the right to return packaging, pp. 61-68 are a must read and offer the opportunity to give quality feedback to the Ministry.
Section 23 (1) of the WMA has mostly unused powers so feedback is sought whether to improve the existing but unused powers or to add new powers. Industry will need to think carefully about whether, on a first principle basis, they want a highly regulated, centrally driven waste management system or whether there are areas where the private sector can achieve Government objectives without its heavy hand. Data collection, the legislative framework for deposit return schemes, national standards for recycling and resource recovery, powers to support improved recycling, the right to return packaging, the right to repair, and better linkages with other legislation (such as import and export controls) are all in the Government’s sights so this section is one where private sector input is most definitely needed.
Basically, everything around the levy is open for debate and decision. This section (pp. 69-74) ranges from which disposal activities should be subject to a levy to reviewing the current population-based formula for its distribution. One senses the Government, and its officials, are keen to hear from councils, the private sector, and consumers about how to best employ and then deploy the waste levy which, as we know, is going to grow significantly. There is opportunity here.
The penultimate section of the Waste Strategy focuses on improving compliance, monitoring and enforcement. The Government considers the current provisions in the WMA are no longer fit for purpose and hints that the waste levy could be used to stiffen compliance and reporting requirements.
These requirements, along with the penalties for any offences, are sure to increase significantly so any business needs to think carefully about what, if any, future risk is posed by bolstered compliance, enforcement, and penalty regulations.
The final section is devoted to litter, where everything from applying the ‘duty-of-care’ of business owners (for the behaviour of their littering customers of their products) to the use of CCTV footage and greater citizen reporting of litterbugs is on the table. I’m not sure the Minister of Environment has consulted with the Attorney General on this last aspect, with really quite obvious Big Brother connotations.
For a government with the strong centralising tendencies of this one, waste is the new frontier for heavy regulation and legislative change driven out of Wellington. The Waste Strategy is also a highly cogent consultation document (in a way last week’s Emissions Reduction consultation document was not), and logically well ordered, as befits a body of work undertaken by Minister Parker, one of the defter minds in Cabinet.
We would urge clients to read the Waste Strategy thoroughly. There may be more devils in the detail than conveyed here, which is offered as a heuristic for the main contours and direction of travel for the Waste Strategy and the attempt to transition (or transform, if one prefers) to a circular economy.