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New Zealand's waste crisis: Five things you need to know


New Zealand is facing a waste crisis, and many towns are struggling with too much rubbish – and nowhere for it to go.

Many towns are struggling with too much rubbish – and nowhere for it to go. Source: Sunday

The system we use to deal with our rubbish is broken, and at the heart of it is our love affair with plastic.

Tonight on SUNDAY at 7.30pm on TVNZ1, Jehan Casinader looks at how we tackle this crisis. For now, here’s what you need to know:

1) China doesn't want our rubbish

For years, we've sold much of our plastic waste to China. Recycled plastic helps to power China's lucrative manufacturing industry. But this year, China closed its doors, saying it no longer wants to be a dumping ground for the world's waste. That leaves us with a massive problem: what do we do with our rubbish if other countries don't want it?

2) Recycling is a business

Most of our waste industry is run by private companies that are contracted by local councils. Like any businesses, they need to make a profit. That means some plastics are not worth recycling – especially now that China won't buy them. Other plastics aren't recycled because they are contaminated with food waste.

3) We need to rethink our consumption

Globally, the figures around plastic are astounding. In 1950, just over 2 million tonnes of plastic were produced. Today, it's around 450 million tonnes a year. Most of it doesn't get recycled. Right now, there's enough plastic debris out there to cover New Zealand 10 times over.

4) New Zealand needs a new approach to waste

Our main tool to minimise waste is a levy – a kind of tax on rubbish that goes to the landfill. But at just $10 a tonne, it hasn't worked. Kiwis are throwing out more rubbish than ever before. We need a fresh approach to waste management, involving the Government, businesses and consumers.

5) Plastic isn't all bad news

As National Geographic pointed out earlier this year, "Plastics have transformed all our lives as few other inventions have, mostly for the better". But it's the path we're on with plastic – where so much of it is used just once, then buried in the ground or washed into the ocean – that’s no longer sustainable.

Watch the full story on SUNDAY, 7.30pm tonight, on TVNZ1.