Looming paper recycling issues require an urgent onshore solution

Publish Date : 01 Aug 2019
Looming paper recycling issues

Auckland Council is keen to undertake an in-depth feasibility study to find a solution for New Zealand’s looming paper and cardboard recycling crisis, as a matter of urgent priority.  In recognition of the need for a coordinated national approach, there is support for urgent action from local authorities across New Zealand.

The study would further existing work undertaken over the last 12 months by the Ministry for the Environment’s National Resource Recovery Taskforce and Auckland Council, focusing on how to best manage and process paper collected in local recycling systems across New Zealand.

China’s restriction on the importation of recyclable materials in early 2018, known as its ‘National Sword’ policy, has resulted in a reduction in export markets and a dramatic fall in the price paid for recovered mixed paper globally.

It’s a global challenge.  Around the world, local authorities and the recycling industry are grappling with the issue, re-evaluating markets and potential solutions.

“As Kiwis, we are committed to recycling our used paper.  We all want to keep doing the right thing.  With changing global markets and limited onshore processing facilities, we lack the capacity to deal with our own paper.  Finding a New Zealand-based solution is a pressing need,” says Councillor Penny Hulse, the council’s Chair of the Community and Environment Committee.

New Zealand’s recycling sector currently recovers around 485,000 tonnes of fibre-based material each year.  Nearly half is processed and recycled in New Zealand.  The rest is exported to markets overseas.

Programme Director – Waste Solutions, Parul Sood says that the remainder – over 200,000 tonnes per year – could be at risk of being sent to local Kiwi landfills if global export markets plummet.

On 10 May 2019, the New Zealand Government announced that “undertaking feasibility studies around how to increase New Zealand's fibre (paper and cardboard) processing and plastic reprocessing capacity” is a priority for the Ministry for the Environment’s work programme.

Councillor Penny Hulse says Auckland Council has seen the problem coming for several years and has advocated strongly with fellow councils to tackle the problem.

“Minister Sage has really picked up the challenge and good on her,” says Councillor Hulse.

“The mayors of Auckland, Wellington, and Christchurch have also been highly involved, talking to the Ministry about how we urgently need to assess the options, constraints, and the level of investment required to increase onshore management and processing of paper and cardboard.”

Parul Sood adds that all options need to be considered as current high-level investigations have only focused on paper mills.

“The solution needs to be financially sustainable and work for all of New Zealand.  But we need to move quickly to complete the detailed analysis and then get on with the job of making it happen,” says Parul Sood.

While Auckland Council is well placed to coordinate the project, Councillor Hulse says that Christchurch City Council has also expressed strong interest in being part of a joint effort with the Ministry for the Environment.

“In addition to central and local government action, it would be great to see local industry responding to the need.  Auckland Council encourages potential industry players that may have solutions to meet the current need to come forward with their ideas.

“The Government also recently announced $40 million has been set aside in the Provincial Growth Fund for waste management and minimisation initiatives. Auckland Council wants to be a catalyst for action but that doesn’t mean the solution needs to be right in the middle of Auckland.  There is a great opportunity for the solution to happen outside of Auckland,” she says.

With Plastic Free July concluding yesterday, there has been a lot of recent public attention on reducing our use of plastic.  While it remains a huge issue for New Zealand to deal with, there is a growing awareness that paper is equally critical.

“Local communities are telling us they don’t want to see more landfills.  If we suddenly need to start landfilling our paper, we will fill all our landfills in no time.  So, we need to deal with this with the utmost urgency,” says Hulse.

“It’s fantastic to see councils keen to tackle paper recycling.  We’ve got a Minister who is passionate about the issue and a government that is prepared to act.  It’s up to us to keep the focus on the issue and move rapidly beyond plans and policies.  We need to see local, physical plants up and running.”

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