Resource Recovery and Waste

We’ve looked closely at the waste and resource recovery sector in New Zealand. This State of Play describes the current state of the sector, the issues it faces as well as those it needs to prepare for.

It looks at the infrastructure used in dealing with waste once it has been created. It includes infrastructure involved in collecting and transporting waste, material recovery facilities and landfills. Systems for reducing the creation of waste are not in scope for this State of Play.

The report is based on our own research, a survey of infrastructure owners as well as conversations with people within the sector and review by an independent expert.

Read the State of Play

Key findings

Sector background

  • Waste and resource recovery infrastructure sit within a wider system for managing waste. It includes the infrastructure for collecting, sorting, transporting and either recovering reusable materials from waste or disposing of it through landfill.
  • The data available shows that New Zealand’s rates of resource recovery – the recovering of waste for new uses – are low when compared to many other countries. However, there are gaps in the data publicly available at a national level.
  • The data shows that waste from construction makes up between 40 to 50% of all waste sent to landfill.
  • New Zealand lacks the onshore processing infrastructure to deal with all our waste in ways that get greater value from it and reduce our reliance on landfills. However, there could also be potential for preventing certain materials from becoming waste in the first instance.
  • Access to recycling varies across the country, and some parts of the country don’t have reasonable access to resource recovery infrastructure.

What services this sector provides New Zealanders

  • This system is critical to our wellbeing, in removing and dealing with the waste we produce.
  • If managed well, resource recovery and waste infrastructure can also protect our environment by making sure waste materials don’t contaminate our land, water and air. However, problems with the sector can result in environmental problems, such as the leaching of hazardous substances into the ground from landfills.

What are the issues facing this sector

  • Lack of data at a national level can make it hard to measure success and plan infrastructure
  • Changes to the types of waste that are created can undermine certainty in long-term investments or have the potential to make some infrastructure less useful.
  • To get the best investment in waste and resource recovery infrastructure, there needs to be some stability in the competition for waste as well as the level of demand for the materials that can be recycled or recovered from waste.

What does the future hold

  • There is growing interest, both in New Zealand and overseas, in the potential for a circular economy where resources and materials are kept in use for as long as possible. This would have implications for investment in waste infrastructure.
  • Climate change mitigation and the transition to net-zero by 2050. This will mean reducing the amount of waste that we produce especially organic waste (i.e. food waste) and having better infrastructure in place to capture and use biogenic methane from organic materials such as anaerobic digestion plants.
  • Climate change adaptation creates risks for landfills that were built near waterways or the coast. 

Let us know what you think 

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