New Zealand Law Society - NZ agrees to Basel Convention plastic waste amendment

NZ agrees to Basel Convention plastic waste amendment

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New Zealand is one of about 180 countries which have agreed via consensus on 10 May 2019 to better regulate global trade in plastic waste to prevent environmental pollution.

The agreement to amend the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal means exporters of contaminated or hard-to-recycle plastic waste will require consent from the Governments of receiving countries before shipping.

The amendment will not prevent the trade of plastic waste but will incentivise trade in high-quality, sorted, clean plastic waste and help ensure that that materials are being shipped for the purposes of recycling.

The governments involved have amended the Basel Convention to include plastic waste in a legally-binding framework which will make global trade in plastic waste more transparent and better regulated, whilst also ensuring that its management is safer for human health and the environment.

At the same time, a new Partnership on Plastic Waste was established to mobilise business, government, academic and civil society resources, interests and expertise to assist in implementing the new measures, to provide a set of practical supports – including tools, best practices, technical and financial assistance - for this ground-breaking agreement.

Working for two weeks in Geneva under the theme of “Clean Planet, Healthy People: Sound Management of Chemicals and Waste”, approximately 1,400 delegates from around 180 countries converged for the meetings of the Conferences of Parties to the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm conventions (Triple COPs).

New Zealand taskforce recommendations

A taskforce set up in 2018 to respond to the Chinese government's ban on the import of many recycling materials has reported and Associate Minister for the Environment Eugenie Sage has released details of the next steps in its recycling programme.

Taskforce recommendations which will now be part of the Ministry for the Environment’s work programme include:

  • Identifying the gaps in materials recovery and waste infrastructure where investment is needed.
  • Reviewing kerbside collection and processing systems to identify how to increase the quality of recyclables and to ensure more materials can be recovered and recycled instead of going to landfill.
  • Undertaking feasibility studies around how to increase New Zealand’s fibre (paper and cardboard) processing and plastic reprocessing capacity.
  • Examining how product stewardship for packaging can be used to ensure manufacturers consider what happens to packaging once a product is used by the consumer.
  • Assessing the options for shifting away from low value and difficult to recycle plastics, such as single-use plastic bags and other low volume and/or mixed materials. This could include regulations around ensuring plastic packaging is able to be recycled and/or to require a portion of recycled content in packaging.
  • Running an education campaign to help New Zealanders 'recycle right', and reduce the amount of recyclable materials going to landfill because of contamination.
  • Developing model contracts for the sector to reduce contamination, increase transparency and to better accommodate fluctuations in market prices for recyclable materials.
  • Developing a sustainable procurement plan and guidelines to encourage purchase of products made of recovered and recycled materials.