Anti-plastic activists and plastic manufacturers both criticize the four-year plan to phase out harmful packaging, saying it falls short on plastic bottles and PVC.
The government has released details of its three-step plan to remove hard-to-recycle items from shelves and keep an estimated two billion single-use plastics out of landfills each year.
By the end of next year there will be no more PVC meat trays, plastic swab sticks or styrofoam containers, then by mid-2023 the country will dispense with fruit labels, straws, fruit bags, cutlery, bowls and plates made of plastic.
In mid-2025, the government will ban all other PVC and Styrofoam food and beverage packaging while talking to industry experts about ways to replace plastic-lined coffee mugs and wet wipes with plastic.
“These plastics often end up in landfills as waste and pollute our soils, waterways and the ocean. Reducing plastic waste will improve our environment and ensure we live up to our clean, green reputation, ”said Environment Secretary David Parker.
“Phasing out unnecessary and problematic plastics will help reduce landfill waste, improve our recycling system, and promote reusable or environmentally friendly alternatives.
“We estimate that this new policy will remove more than two billion single-use plastic items from our landfills or our environment every year.”
National environmental spokesman Scott Simpson says the opposition broadly supports the plan, but criticizes the timeframe involved.
“The government can and should be criticized for taking so long to act and for sending a number of conflicting messages to manufacturers and retailers over the past nearly four years,” he says.
“It was a time of uncertainty when some food and retail companies didn’t get the benefit of knowing the government’s intentions.
“Even with the announcement that has now been made, the actual implementation will be delayed as changes to packaging processes, materials, procurement alternatives and in some cases the invention of new solutions, such as those required for fruit labels, will take time.
“These deadlines could have been shortened if the government had made their intentions clearer much earlier.”
The marine nonprofit Our Seas Our Future shares a similar view and welcomes the government’s announcement on Sunday, but admits it is disappointed with how long it will take to roll out.
“Getting rid of these single-use plastics is a positive step in addressing our growing problem of plastic pollution,” says Lesl van der Voorn, spokesperson for Our Seas Our Future.
“However, we are disappointed that some of these elements will not expire until 2025 within the specified timeframe.”
The OSOF’s petition to encourage the government to phase out priority single-use items by 2023 instead of 2025 has over 2,000 signatures.
“Getting out of these items is really only a fraction of the plastic problem. It is encouraging to see that items like plastic straws, which have caused the death of many marine animals, have finally been banned, but there are still so many single-use plastics that need to be disposed of. Wet wipes and coffee cups, for example, are exempt from this plan despite the significant problems they cause in our waterways and oceans.
“We understand that new policies can take some time to implement, but the plastic pollution crisis requires urgent action. Every day that goes by, hundreds of these items will harm our marine life, our ecosystems and our health. “
About 8,000 individuals and businesses provided feedback on the government’s draft proposal over the past year.
Greenpeace was one group that provided feedback, and they are now critical of leaving plastic beverage bottles out of the final program after a 2019 study found the average household throws 188 of them away every year.
Greenpeace plastic activist Juressa Lee says the government was working on a container recycling program to reduce that number, with no announcements.
She wants them to be banned and replaced with refillable alternatives, which she believes is in line with what the government is already doing for other plastic products.
“I hope that comes. I was disappointed not to see it. But I think the government understands that it is one of the worst culprits in our trash, ”she said.
“And the government is pointing out that those hard-to-recycle, single-use plastic items – the answer is to ban them from turning off the tap. I think that’s an indication that they understand recycling doesn’t work. It definitely doesn’t work by itself. “
The plastics industry has also identified a shortcoming.
Rachel Barker, chief executive of Plastics NZ, says it is unclear why the government banned hard-to-recycle PVC packaging for food and beverages but not for other products.
“PVC – it’s pretty cheap and strong, and it can be completely flexible or completely rigid. As a result, it is used in a large amount of packaging in both the food and beverage industry and outside of that sector. Food and beverage packaging does not solve the underlying problem, “she says.
“We want to remove it from the roadside collection. Since it is in retail stores, that still means we’ll have it by the roadside.”
Duncan McGillivray, a professor of physical chemistry at the University of Auckland, isn’t sure why companies are waiting for government instructions.
“I think if I were in the packaging industry, if I would look one step ahead and actually consider whether we could find alternatives, then maybe we wouldn’t have to wait for the government to say so. We can already start with these movements. ” he says.
That’s something supermarkets do – which means shoppers could see changes ahead of the government’s deadlines for single-use plastic.
Foodstuffs and Countdown say they have already started phasing out single-use plastic.
Both have switched to recyclable meat trays and Countdown has stopped storing plastic straws, plastic cutlery and products with glitter.
Foodstuffs has stopped selling plastic cotton swabs and has just announced a ban on plastic bags from all of its Pak ‘n Save, New World and Four Squares across the country instead of leaving behind various types of reusable bags and boxes.
The government has set up a $ 50 million plastic innovation fund to support projects that effectively manage plastic waste.