Government to phase out more single-use plastics in favour of recyclable materials

The Government will phase out more single-use plastics, following the release of a report on finding better ways to deal with waste.

Their first target is to move away from single-use packaging and beverage containers made of PVC and polystyrene. These include polystyrene meat trays, cups and takeaway food containers.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Sunday said the Government would ensure these "hard-to-recycle" items will be replaced with recyclable alternatives, including PET, HDPE and polypropylene.

"We can ensure that New Zealand's future is not full of throw-aways but of smart innovations and practical steps to reduce, reuse and recycle."

Stuff reports non-compostable fruit stickers, plastic cotton bods and single-use plastic cutlery will also be banned.

More steps include developing solutions to the "soft plastic problem", working with local government on kerbside collection of recyclables and developing a labelling scheme for plastic packaging.

The announcement was made on Sunday morning, where Ardern welcomed the Rethinking Plastics in Aotearoa New Zealand report, put together by her Chief Science Advisor.

"Our ban on plastic bags has already made a difference as we confront our enormous long-term challenge to tackle plastic waste," said Ardern.

"Many New Zealanders, including many children, write to me about plastic - concerned with its proliferation over the past decade and the mounting waste ending up in our oceans."

Most plastic bags have been banned since July.

Associate Minister for the Environment Eugenie Sage said the report reaffirms the Government's plan to reduce waste, including a container return scheme for drink bottles and cans and a $40 million Provincial Growth Fund investment to turn plastic waste into material for businesses and consumers.

"A lot of this plastic waste doesn't need to be created in the first place," she said.

"Our goal must be to make Aotearoa an economy where plastic rarely becomes waste or pollution."

Sage said she aims to have the full Government response to the Rethinking Plastics report confirmed within six months.

'Plastic is everywhere'

The Rethinking Plastics report calls for a "national plastics action plan" to be put in place by 2021.

Chief Science Advisor Juliet Gerrard says "plastic is everywhere", and we need to figure out how to reuse it, rather than throw it away.

"Most of our recommendations can be captured in a single phrase - 'make best practice, standard practice'," she said.

The report says an evidence-based plan would help many groups, including businesses, community groups and councils, who are looking to use plastics more sustainably or shift away from plastic altogether.

"There are many great innovations and ideas already out there that can help mitigate the harms related to plastic while retaining its many benefits," Gerrard said. 

"Some are innovative new business models that help reusing materials become the new norm. Others are simple ideas such as an easy-to-understand labelling system so people know whether a product can be recycled."

But Auckland University chemical sciences professor Duncan McGillivray said the plastics situation isn't all bad.

"We have quite an active plastics industry in New Zealand, and we do need to remember that plastic is so incredibly useful for so many things. This isn't a report that says 'get rid of plastic' - it's a report that says 'use the best practice'."

He added plastics aren't inherently negative and it's important to look at its benefits.

"We wouldn't be flying to Chicago or to New York non-stop unless we had excellent plastic... so plastic's not an evil thing, we just need to make sure we're using it in the best way possible," Dr McGillivray said.

The full report can be read on the Chief Science Advisor's website.