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New Zealand expands its ban on hard-to-recycle plastics

The New Zealand government has just implemented the second stage of a three-phase ban on "hard-to-recycle and single use" plastic items.

Stage two, which began July 1, bans the sale of single-use drinking straws containing any plastics, including compostable or biodegradable plastics. Plastic straws are now only available to people with disabilities or health conditions.

Also included in stage two are plastic produce bags and labels, and plastic cutlery and crockery.

The first stage, which began in October 2022, made it illegal to provide, sell or manufacture a range of plastic products in New Zealand, including:

• Single-use plastic drink stirrers and cotton swabs.

• Plastics with pro-degradant additives to accelerate fragmentation into smaller pieces, such as some bin liners and dog poo bags.

• Pre-formed PVC food trays and containers used for produce, baked goods or meat.

• Polystyrene and expanded polystyrene takeaway food and beverage packaging, for example, clam shells and instant noodle cups.

The final stage, taking effect in mid-2025, is for all other PVC and polystyrene food and beverage packaging not included in stage one.

The New Zealand government's Ministry for the Environment website says the bans on hard-to-recycle and single-use plastics will help reduce the nation's plastic waste, improve recycling systems and protect the environment.

The ministry says it "encourages voluntary compliance" and expects all businesses to take steps to ensure compliance with the regulations.

Its responses to noncompliance range from education to verbal and written warnings through to prosecution.

If systemic or ongoing noncompliance occurs, New Zealand's Waste Minimisation Act allows for fines of up to NZ$100,000 (US$62,000).

The government consulted publicly on its phase-out proposals in 2020 as part of a broader response to the Rethinking Plastics in Aotearoa New Zealand report released by the Prime Minister's chief science advisor in 2019. The government's 2020 response to the report included the mandatory phase out of a range of plastic products.

Hannah Blumhardt, a researcher for Āmiomio Aotearoa, a circular economy research project hosted by New Zealand's University of Waikato, told Plastics News the bans had been "a long time coming" but the scope of products covered was positive.

But the former adviser to the Ministry for the Environment on zero waste strategies said there could be "regrettable substitution" for some single-use plastic products. "For example, a paper plate with food contamination will still end up in landfill and create methane."

Blumhardt said New Zealand needs to disincentivize use of any single-use products, regardless of whether they are made from plastic or alternatives.

She wants better education on reusable replacements. "We need to rethink how we get products to consumers and create a business model for reusable packaging."

She also wants New Zealand to implement a "nuanced, multi-pronged approach, including consumption reduction targets" like those in place in Europe.

"I'd like New Zealand to adopt more forward-thinking, world-leading responses. We can't continue to be in catch up mode."

Blumhardt said Europe has laws that make it mandatory for food retailers to accept BYO (bring your own) containers and Germany has mandated that hospitality venues must offer reusable containers at the same or a lower price than single-use containers.

She said New Zealanders are concerned about plastics. The annual Better Futures survey showed "build-up of plastics in the environment" consistently appeared in the top 10 concerns and "ocean plastics" entered the top 10 for the first time in the 2023 survey.

The survey is conducted by Auckland-based marketing and data analytics company Kantar Insights NZ Ltd. annually for the NZ Business Sustainability Council. It asks 1,000 New Zealand consumers for their views on a range of concerns.

Publication date: 20/07/2023

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Last update: 2022-01-31