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Hard-to-recycle plastic waste needs permit to leave NZ from 2021

Plastic waste in New Zealand that is hard to recycle will need a permit to go offshore from 2021. 

File. Source: Te Karere

Associate Environment Minister Eugenie Sage said the new requirement is part of an international agreement to better regulate the global trade of plastic waste. 

"This will not prevent the trade of plastic waste but will incentivise trade in high-quality, sorted plastic waste and help ensure that materials are being shipped for the purposes of recycling," Ms Sage said. 

Exporters of hard-to-recycle plastic waste will need consent from the governments of receiving countries before shipping occurs, and in New Zealand the Environmental Protection Authority will need to issue a permit. 

Plastics type 1, 2 and 5, such as milk and soft drink bottles and ice cream containers will not need a permit to be shipped for recycling. 

"When we do ship overseas, it needs to be higher value types of plastic which is ready to be recycled by the importing country; rather than ending up in landfill or worse, still being burnt somewhere else," Ms Sage said. 

Earlier this month, Government announced a $124 million investment into recycling infrastructure and a national waste levy scheme expansion.

Government announces $124m boost for recycling infrastructure, waste levy expansion

The levy will be increased from $10 a tonne, to $60 a tonne, over four years. The first increase is scheduled for July next year.

How much plastic does New Zealand export?

The plastic mountain: How our waste ends up in Indonesia

In May 2019, New Zealand signed up to the Basel Convention. The convention was changed to include legally-binding framework that would ensure the global trade in plastic waste was more transparent and better regulated. 

However, New Zealand's plastic recycling export figures showed there was no slowing down of shipping used plastic offshore. 

According to Customs data, New Zealand shipped over 8300 tonnes of plastic to Indonesia from January 1, 2019 to September 16, 2019. Over 12,000 tonnes was exported to Indonesia for the entirety of 2018. 

Malaysia was exported 7800 tonnes for the 2019 period, and 7400 for 2018. 

In total, 23,098 tonnes was shipped offshore in the 2019 period to late September, 2019. In 2018, 31,616 tonnes was shipped offshore. 

At the time, Local Government president Dave Cull said 82 per cent of councils were impacted by China's ban on taking plastic recycling, selling lower grade plastics (numbers 3-7) overseas at a low price, stockpiling, or struggling to find new buyers.

report in January released by WasteMINZ identified 39 per cent of household plastic bottles and containers were being sent to landfills in New Zealand, despite their potential to be recycled.

Other findings of the report showed New Zealand households were throwing out 1.76 billion plastic containers per year.

The most common item being disposed of to either recycling or rubbish bins is the single-use drink bottle - 188 per household per year.