At the cornerstone of governmental commitments to national sustainability rests concerns of reducing and better managing waste –a vital component of New Zealand’s long-term environmental, social and economic wellbeing[1]. Waste management and reduction is central to notions of sustainable living – after all, waste is bad for the environment, health and economy[2]. In particular, organic materials deposed of at landfills produce methane gases as a result of decomposition at landfills; incineration of wastes at landfills release toxic substances that can be hazardous and create further costs for treatment and disposal; and, not using resources in a sustainable manner incurs economic costs – research suggests that approximately 80 per cent of produced goods are discarded after a single use[3].

At the national level, attempts have been made to manage the increasing waste. Governmental policy in 1990 targeted the reduction of national levels of solid waste by 20 per cent from the observed levels in 1988[4]. Local authorities and industries developed recycling programmes to meet national policies; whilst national guidelines for monitoring and managing waste at landfills were developed – this spurred the development of guidelines regarding hazardous wastes and cleaner production[5].

The 1991 Resource Management Act strived to regulate the effects of waste discharges on the environment[6]. The Act provided national instruments, such as National Policy Statements and National Environmental Standards, for use in waste management[7].

Following this, in 1992, governmental policies emphasised the importance of waste management programmes, generator-payment policies, and the implementations of the hierarchal reduction, reuse, recycling, recovering and residual management (5R hierarchy)[8]. During this period of policy making and implementation, the Ministry of Environment was focused on negotiating waste reduction targets within the business sector[9]. Additionally, they were involved with encouraging voluntary initiatives[10].

The 1996 Local Government Amendment Act required local authorities to prepare waste management plans with respect to the 5R hierarchy that had previously been emphasised by the government[11]. This Act placed principal responsibility on local authorities for the implementation of waste policies that would be most effective in their local districts[12]. Macroscopically, this has resulted in locally-designed waste management places, kerbside recycling systems, polluter-payment policies, and improved landfill standards[13].

Whilst kerbside collections have provided residential solutions to recycling because of the ease of weekly collections and council-provided bins, some programmes of the sort have not actually alleviated much[NN1] . For example, Manukau City[NN2]  council opted for co-mingling paper, glass, plastic and other recyclable materials into one bin per household for kerbside collection[14]. Whilst lowering the costs incurred by the council and reducing health and safety issues, it also reduced the value and marketability of recyclables due to contamination, particularly that of glass and paper[15]. The problem under review concerns the continued need for recycling initiatives and review (as demonstrated in the Manukau City example). Contaminated glass exemplifies this – only 30 per cent to 40 per cent of some glass waste is able to be made into new glass products as a result of the contamination[16][NN3] .

[1] The Ministry of Environment, “The New Zealand Waste Strategy,” (accessed March 20, 2012).

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] The Ministry of Environment

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid..

[12] Ibid.

[13] The Ministry of Environment

[14] Sustainable Business Council. “Creating a Sustainable Super City: How to Accelerate Auckland.” (2010) (accessed May 10, 2012).

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid.