NZ’s trash trouble exported overseas
Kiwis don’t know if their plastic is being recycled, ending up in illegal dumping sites in Malaysia, or being burned by the mountain load.
But a spokesperson for the associate environment minister says New Zealand should not stop shipping waste to Southeast Asia.
This week, speakers from Malaysia travelled the country with Greenpeace to spread the message that ‘‘recycling is a myth’’.
WasteMINZ chief executive Paul Evans said rubbish found by Greenpeace in illegal dumping sites in Malaysia had printed words indicating it could also be from Australia but there was no way of knowing.
‘‘Even if it was coming from Australia, what makes us think we’re that much different?
‘‘We’ve got a really important role to play.’’
According to export data, 4000 tonnes of plastic was shipped from this country to Malaysia in the first half of 2018 after China stopped accepting the world’s recycling.
Evans said New Zealand could not turn a blind eye to the problem but to stop shipping waste to Malaysia was not the solution.
‘‘I don’t think we should stop sending recycling to overseas markets simply because we can’t use all of that material in New Zealand.’’
There did need to be new facilities to process the plastics here, he said.
In August, Wellington City Council staff travelled to Malaysia and found their ‘‘recyclable’’ plastic meat trays from Wellington were being dumped.
It came as a shock, as meat trays had been touted as a recyclable option to polystyrene foam trays.
But Evans said it was not feasible for every council to travel to Southeast Asia to see where their waste was going.
Lay Peng, who works as a community activist for the Kuala Langat environmental group, said she would leave home in the middle of the night to find plastic being burned in secret fires in her village of Jenjarom.
The fumes from burning plastic were harming Malaysian residents in villages and lingering in their homes, she said.
In a statement, a spokeswoman for Associate Environment Minister Eugenie Sage said the Environment Ministry had asked resource recovery operators to consider environmental issues in their international contracts.
‘‘Some of our local councils have this as a contract requirement with their service providers.’’
The recycling system in New Zealand was good and had developed over many years, she said.
‘‘We should continue to invest in this. However it’s obviously not the whole answer – we need to prevent waste from the outset by designing it out of the system, including creating products that last and can be repaired or have components that can be reused.’’
There was no need for Kiwis to stop recycling, she said. Furthermore, New Zealand should not stop shipping recycling to Southeast Asia.
‘‘But I do support those countries setting standards about what they want coming into their country,’’ she said.
‘‘For our part, this Government has started a significant programme of work to reduce our waste and support more onshore processing.
‘‘Change will take a while because we’ve had decades of not doing enough.’’
Rubbish being burnt in the open in Malaysia, where some New Zealand recycling is being dumped.