Despite widespread kerbside recycling schemes, and the (patchy) roll out of dedicated public recycling facilities across the country, especially in tourist hotspots, New Zealand’s roads and beaches are lined with rubbish containers. Plastic bottles wash up like a toxic tide, and potentially break down over time to litter the marine environment with ever smaller and more difficult plastic pieces. It chokes sea life and is mistaken for ‘food’ by all sorts of marine animals from fish to whales. Glass and plastic line our roadways, belying our clean green image, reducing visual amenity, and posing risks to animals and passers-by. Container rubbish is ugly, noxious, and seemingly a constant, intractable and problematic reflection on modern consumption.
Plastic and glass drink bottles are a conspicuous reminder of the modern economy’s saturation with single use containers and our throw-away society. Despite home recycling efforts, New Zealand’s recycling rates stand at only about 25-40% of packaging waste produced. Recycling makes all the difference between a container becoming rubbish or a raw resource for reuse. If plastics, aluminium and glass are retrieved from the waste stream and cycled back into production, they can save energy, resources and landfill space.
There has been high profile debate about banning plastic bags because of their environmental impacts, but increasingly there is also support for a container deposit scheme to encourage recycling of widespread plastic and glass containers. The NZ Product Stewardship Council (NZPSC) is petitioning the Minister for the Environment to reintroduce a bottle deposit scheme offering ‘cash for containers’. They have been supported by Local Government New Zealand, representing all the councils in the country. The NZPSC says reintroduction of such a scheme is ‘inevitable’ and just a matter of time. Across the ditch, some Australian states have container deposit schemes. So do diverse nations such as Fiji, Germany, Finland, Estonia, Croatia, Iceland and Israel. Ireland introduced its container deposit recycling scheme in 1799.
But container deposit schemes face strong opposition from ‘Big Beverage’, who have received about $7 million in recycling grants from the Government since 2008. Coca-Cola et al spend millions around the world lobbying and taking legal action to prevent such schemes coming into place, even though the cost for producers is only about one cent per container. The virtue of container deposit schemes is that the buyer of the product pays at sale, potentially providing a disincentive to purchase (hence soft drink companies’ opposition?), but those who return the container are rewarded, and clean up the environment at the same time. Envision New Zealand, a community development business advocacy and environmental organisation, says 2400 jobs could be created from such a scheme here, potentially saving $36-40 million in clean-up costs, diverting an estimated 45,000 tonnes of resource from landfills per annum, and lifting recycling rates to 85-98%, generating pocket money and real funds for keen kids and community groups. ‘Cash for container’ schemes are another recycling programme whose time has come.