The scheme was announced by New Zealand Associate Minister for the Environment Eugenie Sage earlier this year, who described it as a ‘fit-for-purpose’ initiative for the country.
“This is the latest step in the government’s plan to recharge New Zealand’s recycling system,” Sage said via an formal statement on the government’s official website Beehive.
“A container return scheme would change the way New Zealanders see beverage containers. They would again become something of value, and we would see increased recycling and new opportunities for refilling.”
As per initial plans, the scheme would require beverage containers to carry a refundable deposit, which consumers could redeemed when these are returned to a collection depot or other drop-off point.
“[Beverage containers] such as plastic PET bottles [would have a deposit of] 10 to 20 cents (or more), which is refundable – [so] when consumers recycle their drink bottles, they would get a deposit back, which incentivises higher recycling rates,” said Sage.
Coca-Cola Amatil commended this initiative, expressing its willingness to collaborate with the government drawing on its experience in running a non-profit bottle return scheme, and calling for a ‘combined effort’ from all parties to make the project a success.
The company has been running such schemes in Fiji for 20 years and in Australia for 40 years.
"We're pro-collection and believe that a collaborative, system approach is a positive step to close the loop on valuable plastics in New Zealand for a circular economy,” said Coca-Cola Amatil NZ & Fiji Managing Director Chris Litchfield via a formal statement.
"Container Return Schemes must be carefully designed to ensure collection rates are maximised while the cost of running a scheme is kept as affordable as possible for consumers.
“Coca-Cola Amatil is positioned to utilise its experience and expertise [here, and] we support a combined effort from Government, Iwi, industry and community to achieve this and we are fully committed to doing our part to ensure best practice.”
As part of the companies’ global sustainability initiatives, Coca-Cola Amatil and Coca-Cola Oceania had also previously announced that by the end of 2019, all their plastic bottles in New Zealand that are 1L or smaller and water bottles across all sizes will be made from entirely recycled plastic.
Looking to international models
Although there was no formal mention of industry collaboration for the project, Sage said that the government would look to ‘international models’ when designing the scheme.
“[We are looking at] the investigation and design stage for [this] container return scheme [and] learning from the best international models, but [will design this] to meet New Zealand’s geographic and societal needs,” she said.
“Overseas experience shows a refundable deposit puts the value back into recycling and results in a big increase in returned containers. A scheme could lift recovery and recycling rates for numbers of beverage containers in New Zealand from around 45% to 58% to 80%, or more.”
Major guiding principles for the project include increasing the convenience of returning containers anywhere in the country, cost effectiveness and efficiency, improving recyclables’ quality and marketability, as well as creating new opportunities for employment and community participation.
Official numbers estimate some two billion single-use drink containers to be consumed yearly in New Zealand, with a good number ending up as litter and waste despite current recycling efforts.
This project will be receiving NZ$966,000 (US$610,000) in financial support the government’s Waste Minimisation Fund. The final proposal is expected to be presented to the government by August 2020.