Zero Waste in New Zealand in 2018: A Year in Review
In the world of waste, 2018 was a pretty dynamic year for New Zealand. As the year began, Cyclone Fehi set the tone by ripping open a landfill on the West Coast, reminding us all that there’s no away to throw things to. In August, the Government announced a ban on single-use plastic bags. Throughout the year we observed our recycling system crumbling around us (or, more accurately, threatening to smother us all with mushrooming stockpiles of destination-less plastic), but also the unstoppable rise of the low-waste living movement.
For us personally, we’ve gone from running a national speaking tour we thought would only last one-year, to facing the unchartered possibility that our No-Waste Nomad status is actually indefinite. This development reflects the sky-rocketing levels of interest in all things zero waste in New Zealand. As our friend Shelley Wilson said to us mid-way through the year “there’s definitely something in the air right now”.
So, what on earth happened and where to for 2019? Here’s our year in review, with a focus on the positive things (with the odd exception)!
2018 was the tenth anniversary of New Zealand’s Waste Minimisation Act 2008. Despite this pretty progressive legislation, New Zealand waste policy is still stuck somewhere in the 20th century (maybe the ’90s?!) To find out why, check out this report released this year by Jonathan Hannon, Coordinator of Massey University’s Zero Waste Academy and the New Zealand Product Stewardship Council.
Nevertheless, 2018 has brought some interesting (albeit painfully slow) developments. In August, Eugenie Sage, the Associate Minister for the Environment in charge of the waste portfolio announced the government’s new Waste Work Programme, which will essentially look at using the Waste Minimisation Act, rather than just pretending it doesn’t exist while continuing to throw up our arms in despair about the fact our nation’s waste keeps increasing, rather than decreasing.
In August, the government took its first and only concrete policy action of the year, which was to announce a ban on single-use plastic bags (including their evil twin, the biodegradeable/compostable bag).
In December, after a successful national campaign, The Kiwi Bottle Drive delivered its petition calling on the government to reintroduce a national bottle deposit system in New Zealand, just like we had in the old days. Despite bottle deposits receiving the support of over 80% of the public and 90% of councils, alongside clear evidence that countries with mandatory bottle deposit systems see dramatic reductions in littering and impressive lifts in recycling rates, the Minister stated that the ministry still needs to think about it some more and that bottle deposits are low-priority.
In 2019, we’re looking out for/hoping for…
… a bottle deposit scheme, further use of the Waste Minimisation Act’s mandatory provisions, particularly some mandatory product stewardship schemes (likely candidates seem to be tyres and electronic waste), and improvements in New Zealand’s waste data collection. The Minister has also indicated that the Ministry for the Environment is developing a circular economy strategy. We’re guessing this will appear at some point next year and hope it will include some of the issues mentioned above, as well as a decent plastics strategy with clear and measurable targets, backed-up by mandatory policy tools, similar to the EU’s 2018 proposed Directive on the Reduction of the Impact of Certain Plastic Products on the Environment.
Local government wins
Lots of territorial authorities updated their Waste Management and Minimisation Plans this year (’tis the season…). A real standout was the Auckland Council plan – probably the best WMMP we’ve ever read. Aside from just being generally visionary (as far as WMMPs go…), some of the key actions are pretty progressive, including creating a network of 12 community recycling centres across Auckland (evidently the council has learnt from its boo-boo ten years ago when it killed off one of the best community recycling centres in the country, on Waiheke), and beginning to offer kerbside collection of food scraps.
We were pleased to see some councils having a bit of a wake-up call and shifting away from commingled recycling collections towards introducing glass out systems. After the shit show in Tauranga earlier this year with Waste Management pulling the plug on glass recycling collections because the commingled system was making it all economically unviable, the council has stepped in to offer a separate glass collection service. Similarly, Queenstown-Lakes District Council recently accepted that landfilling all the glass that residents had dutifully been putting in their recycling bins was not a good look nor a good idea, and will now introduce a glass-out recycling collection in July 2019. QLDC have also awarded the waste education contract to Wanaka Wastebusters, which is excellent news.
In 2019, we are looking out for/hoping for…
… more council engagement with/contracting of community recyclers and/or council support to develop community capacity to run resource recovery centres. Also a rethink of kerbside recycling collections away from commingling. Also badly needed is a collection and recovery system for food waste from restaurants and businesses across the country (let alone households…)
Taking on Coffee Cups
The war on disposable coffee cups continued in 2018. A special mention to UYOC for tirelessly driving this one. Early this year, The Lincoln Pantry joined Eden Cafe at Otago Polytechnic and Ōkārito Kayaks on the West Coast to become the third coffee vendor that we know of in New Zealand to remove disposable coffee cups completely from their cafes (if anyone knows of others, let us know!).
Meanwhile, the CupCycling scheme, which began in 2017 under the watchful eye of Steph Fry of Celcius Coffee in Motueka, has this year spread to other towns across New Zealand. In November, Wellington launched its own version of reusable cup sharing, Again Again, which is already making frothy milk waves throughout our coffee-obsessed capital city!
In 2019 we’re looking out for/hoping for…
… more cafes coming on board to stop stocking disposable coffee cups. We’re also keeping our eyes out for 2018 Climathon winners ‘Reuseabowl’ to launch their reusable takeaway container initiative… watch this space!
Dedicated zero waste stores
2018 has seen the rise of zero waste grocery/wholefood stores. Apart from packaging-free chains GoodFor and The Source, who have spent the year vying for zero waste world domination in Auckland, independent zero waste shops have been popping up around New Zealand, including Sustainance in Picton, Hopper Home Eco Shop in Wellington, and Be Free Grocer in Palmerston North. These stores are really pushing the boundaries, developing pathways for zero waste to become a societal norm. They grapple with the realities of bulk packaging and wasteful shipping practices, finding ways to work with suppliers to reduce or even eliminate the packaging required to get the goods to the stores, and championing local producers who are best placed to get those closed-loop, circular economy relationships going!
Stores with extensive bulk bin sections/refilleries
Across the country there are numerous stores with extensive bulk bin/refillery sections, most notably the Bin Inn franchise and most organic stores. Bin Inn Papamoa, Bin Inn New Brighton and Bin Inn Dunedin are stand-outs for their commitment to waste reduction, while Kominaya Organics and Wholefoods in Westport goes the furthest of any of the organic stores in their commitment to phase out packaging.
However, this year we’ve seen a whole bunch of new stores entering the scene who’ve made the call to include an extensive bulk bin section/refillery, even though they aren’t dedicated zero waste stores. This includes Kind Grocer in Dunedin and Gulf Foods on Waiheke Island. Gulf Foods sets a particularly exciting precedent; since the ‘90s it’s been Waiheke’s food wholesaler, but only this year opened a public retail section. In so doing, Gulf Foods opted to take advantage of the fact it buys wholefoods in bulk by embracing the bulk bin because that’s the obvious thing to do! If more food wholesalers and distributers around New Zealand were to follow suit, the increase in bulk bins/refilleries across New Zealand would be game-changing.
Zero waste grocery delivery services
Also pretty awesome was the appearance of zero waste grocery delivery services in 2018 – busting the myth that zero waste living is an inconvenient bother by bringing unpackaged goods straight to people’s doors. For the record, zero waste delivery involves reusable/refillable receptacles rather than one-use/finite-use brown paper bags because while zero wasters scowl at single-use disposable plastic, we also love trees and disapprove of single-use disposables, regardless of what they’re made of.
Following their win at the 2017 Climathon, The Nude Grocer trail-blazed their way on to the scene as New Zealand’s first zero waste grocery delivery service, bringing groceries to people’s doors in reusable glass jars (just like the old school milk run!) throughout the Wellington Region. 2018 was also the year that the Plastic-Free Pantry on Waiheke Island switched their wholefood home delivery service on the island from brown paper bags to a reusable glass jar system, and placed their sights on transforming food packaging on the island in the future.
In 2019 we’ll be looking out for/hoping for…
… more independent, dedicated zero waste grocery stores across New Zealand, particularly in parts of the country where unpackaged food is hard to find. We’re also keen to extend the conversation about how to work with bulk wholefood suppliers to reduce their packaging – we’re putting shrink-wrapped palettes and small bulk plastic (e.g. 3kg) bags of nuts and seeds in the crosshairs!
Zero Waste Life Essentials
Online stores dedicated to zero waste life essentials have increased in 2018. Shelley Wilson’s awesome In My Kitchen continues apace, but notable new arrivals in 2018 include EarthSavvy, run by the legendary Kristy Lorson (founder of Facebook group Zero Waste in NZ!), and Daily Use, by Vanessa in Hari Hari.
If you’re wanting to get those zero waste life essentials in person though, you still can’t beat Simply Eco in Ashburton (who changed their name this year, previously known as ‘Weebodz’), which in our opinion is the best stocked physical store for such items in the country, and owner Danielle is impressively knowledgeable about what she stocks. However, 2018 saw some close new contenders, including Ekko Naturals in Upper Hutt, Green Space on Waiheke Island, and Good House Keeping in Wellington (we’ve also heard that new stores Full Circle in Napier and Eko Hub in Whangarei are great too, but haven’t seen them yet in person).
Revitalising the old school milk run/milk in reusable glass bottles
Zero waste Aucklander Amanda Chapman once remarked that finding pasta in a bulk bin is “the holy grail of zero waste success”. We love this quote and agree with her, but would also apply it to finding milk in reusable/refillable glass bottles, which is not the easiest feat in New Zealand.
In fact, 2018 brought the public demise (and possible resurrection) of Glen Herud’s Happy Cow Milk Company, which was providing milk in reusable glass bottles across Christchurch and North Canterbury. Furthermore, many raw milk suppliers, who generally tend to sell milk in refillable glass bottles, have also had to shut shop because of increasingly restrictive raw milk regulations.
Nevertheless, 2018 has seen an expansion of milk in reusable glass bottles in other parts of the country. Southland is totally going for it, with several companies expanding their delivery service of milk in reusable glass bottles this year. Henderson Raw Milk Dairy Co now deliver milk in reusable glass bottles in Gore and Mataura, while Farm Fresh South delivers to Invercargill, Dunedin, Mosgiel, Waihola, Milton, Balclutha, Clinton, Gore, Mataura, and Edendale, and anyone on state Highway 1 in between. They’re soon to be opening up deliveries in Queenstown and towns in Central Otago too!
In Northland, Bella Vacca, just West of Kawakawa, began supplying their milk in reusable glass bottles to retailers across Northland and have expanded the number of participating outlets considerably – just bring your empty bottles back after purchase and it’ll go back to the company for sterilisation and refill, over and over. There’s the Replenish & Co Milk Truck in Hawkes Bay for you to refill your own bottles with local milk. In the Wellington Region, Eketahuna Country Milk have just squeezed into this year’s review – in mid-December they launched their milk in reusable/refillable glass bottles (or they’ll even fill your own bottle while you wait) – available at the Lower Hutt Riverside and Wellington Harbourside markets, and at their butchery in Masterton. Meanwhile, there are new farms offering vending machines at the farm gate where customers can refill their bottles with fresh milk. For example, HumpBridge Milk near Te Awamutu established this year with such a system.
Zero waste community, resources, spaces and knowledge-sharing
2018 was the year that the Facebook group Zero Waste in NZ! (started by Kristy Lorson in 2015) clocked over 20,000 members. There has been an increase in public-facing zero waste journeys, with the Auckland-based Archer family of 6‘s decision to make 2018 the year they produced one bin of rubbish for the whole year being the most notable – check out their astonishing success at Practically Green, which has done wonders for making low-waste living attainable and down-to-earth. More and more local zero waste groups and pages are forming, such as Waste Zero Whakatane and Waste Free Kāpiti. At the beginning of the year, Matt Akehurst, aka The Rubbish Runner, set out to test whether one person could pick up 7000 pieces of litter in 70 days off the beach he runs along daily in North Canterbury, discovering the task was a “disappointing success” (achieved in just 65 days), but in the process triggering a far-reaching awareness campaign (he still runs and picks up wayward rubbish, sharing posts about what he finds regularly).
Māori zero waste organisation Para Kore continues to grow exponentially, with over 290 marae on its programmes already, and new regional kaiarahi/coordinators coming on board this year as the organisation expands into more parts of the country. The wonderful Hub Zero opened in Panmure, Auckland in 2018 – a space dedicated to the sharing of zero waste knowledge, waste-based social enterprise, upcycling and wonderful community projects like repair cafes! Meanwhile, EcoMatters teamed up with Auckland Council to release their very impressive guide to running a Zero Waste Event, which will be of huge use to any event organisers from here-on-in. Zero waste extraordinaire, Anthea Madill, started up the exciting Remix Plastic in Christchurch City. In the world of textile waste, Bernadette Casey of The Formary has been upping the ante, with some high profile events this year in Wellington as well as her promotion of the wonders of darning! Meanwhile the Just Atelier Trust down in Dunedin have expanded their community work under a new name, Stitch Kitchen, continuing with a huge range of workshops and events to support locals to address the social and environmental problems of waste throughout the fashion industry – repurposing, repairs, clothes swaps, sewing classes, the list goes on!
Zero waste workshops…
… are on the rise in New Zealand (mercifully it’s not just us subjecting people to 1 hour plus rants)!! Anyone who’s anyone in the zero waste world will know that Bea Johnson, the initiator of the modern-day zero waste movement, visited New Zealand to deliver her talk in Auckland Central and on Waiheke Island in July. But on the local front, there’s no shortage of motivational speakers…
Kate Meads (aka The Nappy Lady) continues her extraordinary tour-de-force across the country with an ever expanding pallette of workshops delivered in her extremely likeable and hilarious manner. This year Kate also co-produced Wasted New Zealand, a must-watch 6-part video series about the waste system in New Zealand.
This year the highly amazing Libby Bowles finished her tour of New Zealand, on a bamboo bike she built herself, delivering talks to schools and communities about plastic in the ocean and reducing plastic use. Sarah Tay in Dunedin (aka Waste Free Sarah) has been delivering zero waste workshops throughout the city, as has Kristy Lorson in Auckland under her EarthSavvy banner and Anthea Madill in Christcrhuch under her Remix Plastic banner. Nic Turner has greatly increased her workshops and events in the Waikato Region through her business Mainstream Green (including running Zero Waste Home Tours!). Librarian Sarah Jordan has been developing workshops in the Petone/Lower Hutt area, and Lucie & Dylan, a low- waste living couple and founders of Plastic-Free Hawkes Bay have delivered talks about going rubbish-free in Hawkes Bay. Finally, Sarah and Ali, the irrepressible duo behind the Wellington-based Waste-ed, have been running all manner of workshops across the city this year. In fact, in 2018 they took things one step further by starting The Waste-ed Hour, a radio show dedicated to waste issues! Yes, really! Be sure to live stream or download the podcasts.
Credit where it’s due
These days, many of us who have jumped on the zero waste bandwagon are not old hats but relative spring chickens to the zero waste world. It’s always important to remember and recognise those who have been banging the drum tirelessly for a long time, paving the way forward so that it’s just that bit easier for the rest of us to follow. On this note, we were delighted to see Warren Snow receive the People’s Choice Award for Contribution to the Sector at the 2018 WasteMINZ Conference. Warren is one of the most incredible people in the zero waste space in New Zealand. Aside from his steadfast dedication and commitment to zero waste and his vast contribution over 30 years, his ability to offer both leadership and support for everyone in the sector, both newbies and veterans, is particularly impressive.
Media catching on to low-waste living
Aside from the sea of media reports about recycling crises and plastic bags, it’s been great to see greater attention placed on low-waste living and everyday solutions, including stories about people in the regions! Check these out:
How to make your child’s school lunchbox plastic-free (The AM Show, Newshub)
Tips from ‘zero waste’ guru Bea Johnson (Radio New Zealand)
Going Clean and Green the Maori Way (The Hui, Newshub)
In 2019 we’re looking out for…
… more of these stories, and also more positive stories on businesses and community groups across the country who are working to reduce their waste and the waste they pass on to customers. We’re also keen on more investigative journalism into what the Government is doing to incentivise waste minimisation in New Zealand, particularly in comparison to overseas…
Research and reports
The body of knowledge on waste in New Zealand got off to an impressive start in 2018 with The PURE (Plastic Use Resistance Education) Tour – a series of talks throughout the North Island disseminating and conducting research about plastic marine pollution. The tour was a collaboration between local researchers, including Tina Ngata, Te Matau a Māui Voyaging Trust and the Institute of Environmental Science and Research, and international researchers Algalita South Pacific and The 5 Gyres Institute. The tour coincided with a groundbreaking study of microplastics along New Zealand’s shorelines, with the pieces of plastic captured by a plastic trawl run off waka hourua Te Matau a Māui and analysed by masters student Helena Ruffell at the University of Canterbury. The researchers found alarming levels of plastic in New Zealand waters, with Oriental Bay having the highest density of plastic that the international researchers had seen anywhere else in the world.
The Sustainable Business Network have also been busy producing reports with a focus on the circular economy. In May the network released The Circular Economy Opportunity for Auckland, finding the city could be $8.8 billion better off if it were to transition to a circular economy. A few months later and another report was out – New Zealand’s Plastic Packaging System: An Initial Circular Economy Diagnosis – which outlines the key challenges and opportunities for creating a circular economy for plastic packaging in New Zealand, with tangible examples, ideas and practical and policy solutions.
A lot of things that really needed to be said were laid out bare in the WasteMINZ Territorial Authority Forum Waste Manifesto – it’s really worth a read if you’d like a short, sharp overview of the things that need to happen to improve the way we approach waste in New Zealand.
In July 2018 the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment released the findings of his enquiry into degradable, biodegradble and compostable plastics in New Zealand. The resulting online Q&A and formal letter to the Minister were really useful, helping to unpack/demystify a lot of the claims bandied about regarding these different materials, and recommending that the Government introduce some compostability/labelling standards to inject some proper quality control, level the playing field for businesses, and reduce consumer confusion.
And for something truly special, the wonderful Christchurch-based organisation, Rekindle, launched their new Journal of Resourcefulness this year, a series that “explores and celebrates resourcefulness as a vital frame of reference for addressing waste, wellbeing and planetary health.” Check out Volume 1!
In 2019 we’re looking out for/hoping for…
… Helena Ruffell’s Masters thesis on microplastics from New Zealand’s wastewater treatment plants. A study into the economics and logistics of scaleable reuse and refill systems would be useful too…
The Damp Squib Award
While seeking to be positive, we can’t possibly do a year in review without bestowing a Damp Squib Award on The Packaging Forum’s Soft Plastics Recycling Scheme. After managing to divert a measly 2-7% of New Zealand’s total soft plastics consumption, The Packaging Forum recently announced they’ll be ‘temporarily’ mothballing the scheme until they can find markets for the soft plastic waste they’ve created. While some are distraught at this announcement, we’re mostly not. The reality is that the Soft Plastics Recycling Scheme was essentially an industry con to divert attention away from the real solution, which is mandatory regulation of the packaging industry under the Waste Minimisation Act.
Now that the scheme doesn’t exist to distract us, in 2019 we’re looking out for/hoping for…
… a reopening of the conversation about regulating the packaging industry in order to incentivise reduced plastic consumption, increased recycled content in packaging, and use of packaging materials that are more effectively recycled, reused/refilled, or home composted.
That’s it, folks!
Happy 2019! May the new year propel the zero waste movement forward in full force, with new initiatives, projects and waste-busting measures bringing us ever closer to the goal of a zero waste New Zealand, in the not too distant future…