Container Return Scheme: An Opportunity for a Reuse Scheme

Container Return Scheme: An Opportunity for a Reuse Scheme

This month the New Zealand public has a major opportunity to shift the focus from recycling to reusing bottles and we need your help.

You may have heard the news that the Government is proposing a Container Return Scheme to ‘transform recycling’. The proposal is that you will get 20 cents back for returning your empty bottles. But the current proposal is that those bottles will then get recycled, not reused, and while this is a step in the right direction, it does not consider the C02 emissions, extraction of resources and energy-intensive process of creating a new bottle. If we are already collecting the bottles, why not reuse them?

We are proposing that the Government implements and pilots a centralised reuse scheme to wash, sanitise, de-label and return bottles to producers that can be part of the proposed Container Return Scheme which currently only provides for recycling.

If you're already convinced, please sign the petition now to show your support to pilot a reuse scheme or read on for more information and our reasons why we cannot miss this opportunity.


What is the Container Return Scheme?

The Container Return Scheme is part of the Governments’ Transforming Recycling proposal. It will lift New Zealand's recycling game. The plan in its current form will add a 20c fee to each bottle which will be returned to consumers on deposit at a container depot.

Recycling is a step in the right direction, but it is the worst of the environmentally friendly options available. Speaking on waste in 2019 the World Economic Forum said: "[we need to] focus on avoiding the recycling stage at all costs. It may sound straightforward but preventing waste from being created in the first place is the only realistic strategy."

Why do we think Reusing should be the focus instead of recycling?

There is a glaring glitch in the Container Return Scheme. It is focussed on lifting New Zealand's recycling efforts, but recycling is the worst of the environmentally friendly options available so why build our systems around this when we can do much better?

In order to solve the waste crisis, we need to do away with single-use. We need to shift to a reuse system where bottles are washed, sanitised, de-labelled and returned to producers, and the Container Return Scheme is an opportunity to make that happen. We know it's possible because other countries and communities are already reusing bottles before recycling them. In countries like Germany, glass bottles are reused up to 50 times and PET plastic bottles are reused up to 10 times before being recycled.

In New Zealand an estimated 2.57 billion bottles were consumed last year and most are made from virgin plastic, glass and aluminium. Each bottle requires large amounts of energy, resources and water to recycle. For example, significant research conducted on the life-cycle analysis of reusable packaging vs single-use packaging (including packaging that is recycled) shows that the CO2 emissions of a reusable glass bottle are 85% less than single-use glass (1).

Recycling is particularly bad in New Zealand because not all glass, aluminium and plastic can be recycled here. This means we rely on other countries to deal with our waste. Recycling is also becoming more expensive. Regulations are tightening, supply chains are becoming more complex and the cost of oil and gas for freighting offshore is increasing. In addition, plastic bottles in New Zealand can never be infinitely recycled. They require new virgin plastic, usually made from petrol, to be recycled into a new plastic bottle

What are we proposing?

We propose that the Government implements a centralised reuse scheme to wash, sanitise, de-label and return bottles to producers as part of the container return scheme and incentivises re-use over single-use.

How can you help?

Submissions to the proposal close on Sunday 22 May 2022 and we need your help.

Please show your support for a pilot reuse scheme by signing our petition here.

The more support we get, the greater chance the Government will listen. Please share this with your colleagues, family, friends, friends of friends - anyone you think will want to see New Zealand take the right steps towards a safer climate future for generations to come.

You can read the full submission here or by following the link below.



Image by Isy Harris for The Kiwi Bottle Drive campaign.

If you would like more information, The Kiwi Bottle Drive is a great place to start. The Kiwi Bottle Drive is the public campaign that has been advocating for a comprehensive beverage container return scheme that foregrounds reuse, not just recycling. In partnership with Zero Waste Network, Para Kore and other zero waste organisations, they have created further resources about bottle deposits and a public submission template on the Government proposals on their website.



1. Patricia Coelho, Blanca Corona, Ernst Worrell, Reusable vs Single-Use Packaging: A Review of Environmental Impacts, 2020

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