Waste disposal levy increase on landfills could soon be a step closer

An expansion and increase in the waste disposal levy on landfills could soon be a step closer, with Associate Environment Minister Eugenie Sage telling TVNZ's Q+A tonight a Cabinet paper on the proposal is close, as she defends the time it's taking.

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The Associate Environment Minister says it's a big challenge to expand and increase the levy, but a Cabinet paper is coming soon. Source: Q+A

The levy, currently at $10 a tonne, applies to landfills which accept household waste. But it only applies to 45 of New Zealand's 426 landdfills, or about 11 per cent of them.

The Ministry for the Environment reviewed the levy in 2017 and recommended it should be expanded to cover more landfills and increased. The OECD has said $10 a tonne is too low. 

Ms Sage told Q+A in July last year she needed more time for more advice on the matter, and in an interview for tonight's programme, host Jack Tame asked why it's taking so long.

"Because there is so much work to do in the waste space," the minister replied.

"It's a big challenge and we're on our way. But we've got a lot of catching up to do," she said.

"It's very close to a paper being put to Cabinet, and then if Cabinet approves that then a discussion paper going out to the public about expanding the levy and potentially increasing it."

Ms Sage would not be drawn on how widely the levy would be expanded, saying, "That is a decision for the Cabinet to make and there will be options in a discussions paper."

Tame put to her that there's public support, most councils would support significantly increasing the levy, up to $140 a tonne, and asked, "Where is the resistance?"

"At the moment a lot of the costs of dealing with waste fall on the communities and on nature. So...the landfill levy will make sure that it's actually paying for some of those costs, not freeloading on the environment," Ms Sage replied. 

"But there is work to be done in terms of how the staging of the expansion operates and also developing an investment plan for the revenue that the levy will generate," she said. 

"That work has been underway for several months now. We are close to going out to Cabinet with a paper and then going out with a discussion paper."

Ms Sage pointed out that in the two years since the ministry review of the levy, the Government has phased out single-use plastic shopping bags and launched a task force "to recharge our recycling system" in response to China's national sword initiative which bans imports of certain waste.

And just recently the Government announced the Environment Ministry is working with Auckland and Marlborough councils on a container return scheme, the minister said.