Government announces plan to tackle problem plastics and seven single-use plastic items

Following the success of the phase out of single-use plastic shopping bags, the Government now has plans to phase out more single-use and problem plastics to reduce waste and protect the environment announced Associate Minister for the Environment Eugenie Sage.

The proposals are to phase-out:

  • some hard-to-recycle PVC and polystyrene packaging and oxo-degradable plastic products
  • seven single-use plastic items, including plastic straws, drink stirrers, produce bags, tableware (e.g. plastic plates, bowls, cutlery) and non-compostable fruit stickers.

 

These proposals are part of a consultation document ‘Reducing the impact of plastic on our environment’ launched today.

“Plastic has become one of our generation’s greatest environmental challenges,” said Eugenie Sage.

“The level of plastic pollution in the oceans is unacceptable.  It is distressing that birds, fish, whales and other marine mammals die from eating plastic which did not need to be made in the first place. Phasing out hard to recycle and single use plastics helps reduce plastic waste and pollution and will improve our recycling system. 

“Government is taking a leadership role in setting a clear direction and providing certainty for industry and the public on managing and minimising plastic waste.

“To reduce marine pollution and waste to landfill we can identify what plastic products we really need, phase out unnecessary and unrecyclable plastics, and ensure others are designed and made so that we can recover and reuse the materials in them.

“New Zealanders want urgent change in the area of plastics. We saw that with the support for banning single use plastic bags, which has meant 1.1 billion fewer plastic bags ending up in landfills or the ocean.

“I am confident that as a country we can tackle the challenges around problem plastics,” said Eugenie Sage.

The proposals include provision for people who need straws due to a disability, so that they can still access them.

The Associate Minister made the announcement at an event in Auckland to kick start ecostore’s bottle recall scheme, which is being supported by a $200,000 grant from the Ministry for the Environment’s Waste Minimisation Fund

The grant will help ecostore to create New Zealand’s first high-density (HDPE) closed loop packaging return programme.

The project involves educating and motivating people to drop off their used ecostore bottles at their local school or other collection points, such as specialty grocery stores.

From there, bottles will be collected, ground down, sterilised and recycled for use in the manufacture of new bottles.

“Businesses like ecostore show how it’s possible to stand up against single-use and find new ways of doing things. Ecostore is demonstrating how businesses, with the support of Government, can help with recovering and reusing materials.” 

Today, the Government is:

  • Opening public consultation on proposals to phase out certain hard-to-recycle plastics and seven single-use plastic items.
  • Releasing its response to the report “Rethinking Plastics in Aotearoa New Zealand” by the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor, Professor Juliet Gerrard in December 2019. The Government’s detailed response includes commitments to:
    • Investigate how we can improve the depth and accessibility of data on plastics.
    • Develop a plastics research agenda and stimulate innovation.
    • Support education initiatives, sectors, businesses and communities to take action on plastics.
    • Develop guidelines for government agencies to encourage more sustainable use of plastics during procurement processes.
    • Better coordinate and leverage international connections to support our plastics agenda, and Pacific neighbours in their plastics management.

Eugenie Sage said today’s announcement of the Government’s response to “Rethinking Plastics” and the release of the “Reducing the impact of plastic on our environment” consultation document built on the significant progress in reducing waste over the last three years.

“Our vision is to emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic and transition to a future with on-shore resource recovery infrastructure and high performing kerbside recycling systems critical to addressing our rubbish record on waste. 

“Other work includes a $124 investment in new on-shore recycling and reprocessing infrastructure, and phasing in an expanded and increased waste levy scheme to provide on-going investment in expanding our resource recovery infrastructure to transition New Zealand to a low waste and lower carbon, more circular economy.

“Today’s announcements are another step to achieving these goals.”

More information can be found here: https://www.mfe.govt.nz/publications/waste/reducing-impact-of-plastic-our-environment-moving-away-from-hard-to-recycle-and-single-use-items

 

Background notes: 

How long is the consultation period, and when are they likely to be banned?

The consultation will be open for 12 weeks until 4 November 2020. The consultation document will be published on the Ministry for the Environment website from today.  During the initial six weeks, we intend to engage with key stakeholders, while wider public engagement is planned for the second six week period.

All phase-outs are proposed to come into force by January 2025 with some phase-outs to happen earlier depending on the type of packaging or item. See below for more detail.

Hard-to-recycle plastics are proposed across two stages

Stage 1 is proposed for phase-outs to be in place by January 2023 and includes:

  • All PVC food and beverage packaging
  • Some polystyrene food and beverage packaging
  • All oxo-degradable plastic products.

Stage 2 is proposed for phase-outs to be in place by January 2025 and includes:

  • All remaining polystyrene food and beverage packaging
  • All other expanded polystyrene (EPS) packaging (eg, EPS packaging used in homewares and electronics).

Single-use items

We have not set dates for individual single-use items as this will likely vary across items, but we propose that all bans are in place by January 2025.

What is the PVC and polystyrene packaging most affected by this phase-out, and what can it be replaced by?

There is a range of items that will be affected by a phase-out of PVC and polystyrene packaging. PVC common items include meat trays and biscuit trays, which can be replaced by PET (type 1 plastic). PET is high in value and recyclable here in New Zealand.

For polystyrene (including expanded polystyrene) common items that will be captured by a phase-out include expanded polystyrene takeaway containers and cups (eg, styrofoam), polystyrene meat trays, some sushi packaging and yoghurt pottles. Many of these items can be replaced by PET or polypropylene (type 5), or in some cases paper-based alternatives.

For takeaway containers the best alternative is a reusable container – we have seen many cafes and takeaway shops allowing ‘bring your own’ containers over the last year.

What are the seven single-use plastic items identified for phasing out?

The seven single-use plastic items proposed for phase-out include:

  • Plastic straws
  • Plastic cotton-buds
  • Drink stirrers
  • Tableware (eg. plastic plates, bowls, cutlery)
  • Some single-use cups and lids, made from hard-to-recycle plastics (types 3, 4, 6 and 7 or plastic lined paper cups) – excluding disposable coffee cups
  • Single-use produce bags
  • Non-compostable produce stickers.

It is proposed for most items that the phase-out include plastic of any type, including bio-based plastics, compostable, degradable and biodegradable plastics.  

How will you make sure people who need plastic straws can still access them?

An exemption is proposed to allow specified retailers such as pharmacies to stock straws to enable disabled persons or their carers to purchase them as needed. Restaurants and other food outlets could also be allowed to provide plastic straws with food or drink upon request.

This is the approach that has been taken in the UK regulations, which come into effect in October 2020.

Consultation will help to test whether this approach will be sufficient and to inform an approach that will work for both those who need straws to live in a dignified way, and for the environment.

The Waste Minimisation Fund

The Waste Minimisation Fund (WMF) is funded through the waste disposal levy that was introduced under the Waste Minimisation Act 2008.

Fifty per cent of the money collected from the levy is distributed to councils to spend in accordance with their Waste Management and Minimisation Plans. The remainder (minus administration costs) is used for the WMF, which is managed by the Ministry for the Environment.

The purpose of the Act is to encourage waste minimisation and a decrease in waste disposal.

A list of projects that have been awarded WMF funding can be viewed on the Ministry for the Environment’s website www.mfe.govt.nz/more/funding/waste-minimisation-fund/projects-funded-date.

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