No plans for New Zealand to ban polystyrene - Government

One state in the US is trying to divorce take away food from polystyrene containers. They've been banned in Maine but New Zealand has no plans to follow suit.

Our government says it's up to businesses to take the lead to find alternatives to plastic packaging but other types of polystyrene cause a bigger headache and are much harder to substitute.

Polystyrene pervades the world of packaging but after the appliance has been unpacked, what happens to all the rubbish?

"It's a problem with the product. All you can do is try and handle it responsibly," says Magness Benrow owner, John Magness.

Expanded polystyrene is used in packaging and extruded polystyrene in used for food containers.

It's this type which has just been banned in the US state of Maine as they break down into toxic microplastics.

And there's support for a similar ban here.

"Absolutely, we live by the sea, people are sick of plastic," says Waste Watchers director, Marty Hoffart.

"We should be banning all unnecessary single-use plastics."

But the Government says it's businesses who have to step up and it's not planning a ban.

"Businesses have a responsibility to develop alternatives to hard-to-recycle plastics like polystyrene," says Associate Environment Minister Eugenie Sage.

Polystyrene food containers can be substituted for cardboard but expanded polystyrene used for packaging is much harder to find alternatives for. It can be recycled but there are only a handful of places that do it in New Zealand.

As a result, for many businesses and individuals it's cheaper and easier to toss it in the landfill because New Zealanders pay next to nothing to put waste into landfill compared to other western countries - it costs just $10 per tonne.

In Australia it's $90 a tonne, in Denmark it's $106 a tonne and in England it's $130.

It's hoped a proposed increase to the landfill levy will help tackle the polystyrene problem but without manufacturers willing to use a more easily recyclable alternative, it's going to remain hard work for consumers to do the right thing.