Government to ban raft of single-use plastics by 2025

The Government will phase out several "problem" and single-use plastics by mid-2025 to help rid New Zealand of hard-to-recycle packaging.

The items to be banned are single-use plastics such as drink stirrers, cotton buds, single-use produce bags, straws, cutlery, plates, bowls, and fruit labels, as well as PVC and polystyrene food and drink packaging.

The phasing out of plastics will be in three stages, beginning in late 2022 for the easier to replace items.

Environment Minister David Parker says the types of plastics that will be banned often end up as waste in landfills and cause pollution in soil, waterways, and the ocean.

"Phasing out unnecessary and problematic plastics will help reduce waste to landfill, improve our recycling system and encourage reusable or environmentally responsible alternatives," he says.

He says New Zealanders throw away an estimated 159 grams of plastic per person every day, making us among the highest waste generators in the world.

"We have made good progress over the past three years and there is strong public and business support for the 2019 plastic bag ban. That meant over one billion fewer plastic bags have ended up in landfills or the ocean - and we know New Zealanders are ready to do more," Parker says.

"We estimate this new policy will remove more than two billion single-use plastic items from our landfills or environment each year."

The timeframe for phasing out these plastics strikes a balance between the public call for urgency and the time needed for businesses to adjust and find replacements, he says, and he encourages people to find reusable options. But he adds that through public consultation, it was found more work is needed on single-use cups and certain types of expanded polystyrene used to transport cold items or protect large items.

"There is strong support for taking action on coffee cups and wet wipes. The Government will work with industry and other stakeholders to develop a plan for these items and we expect to make a decision on next steps in 2022," Parker says.

"Plastic straws are a particular area of concern, and we are committed to phasing them out, but work is needed to ensure that does not have a detrimental impact on those who need to use them."

David Parker.
David Parker. Photo credit: The AM Show

Parker also launched a $50 million Plastics Innovation Fund to help support projects that reimagine how we make, use and dispose of plastics.

"We need to back New Zealanders to innovate, find solutions and then scale them up. The fund will help tap into our collective ingenuity to find ways to use less plastic, and make what we do use recyclable for the benefit of the environment – while also boosting jobs and supporting the economic recovery," he says.

"Funding will be available for innovative projects from designing out waste in products and packaging, or adopting and scaling up existing technologies, through to switching materials and developing recycling solutions not currently available."

The fund will open in November 2021.

The Green Party's spokesperson for waste, Eugenie Sage, says the party welcomes the progress to phase out some hard to recycle plastics but adds that more work needs to be done.

"Seabirds, turtles, whales and other marine life should not have to die from our plastic pollution. Phasing out expanded polystyrene takeaway containers and single-use items such as plastic produce bags, cutlery, and tableware by October 2022 is good for people and planet. It helps reduce plastic waste and pollution," she says.

"It is disappointing the Government has delayed a decision until mid-2022 on whether to phase-out expanded polystyrene used in packaging for large items and chill boxes, and has not yet acted to phase out so-called 'flushable' wet wipes containing plastic.

"We wish the Government had heeded the strong public calls to phase out wet wipes containing plastic. They cause troublesome fatbergs in wastewater pipes and contribute to sewage spills in rivers and harbours."

Sage says the Green Party hopes the Ministry for the Environment and expert sector groups will prioritise phasing out single-use cups, such as coffee cups, and they want to see progress on that "well before" the target date of 2025.

Greenpeace also welcomes the Government's plan, but is calling for the ban to cover a wider range of products, including single-use plastic drink bottles like Coke, Pepsi, and Pump.

"This new commitment to phase out single-use plastics is a win for nature and a win for people power - but it needs to go further if we are to have any hope of averting the plastic pollution crisis," says Greenpeace Aotearoa plastics campaigner Juressa Lee.

Greenpeace has launched a petition to "ban the bottle", which currently has over 81,000 signatures.

"Throwaway single-use plastic bottles like Coke and Pump are one of the worst culprits in the plastic crisis. Here in Aotearoa it's estimated that 1 billion single-use plastic bottles are thrown away every year and the majority of those end up in landfill or in the oceans and rivers," Lee says.

Lee is also critical of the Government's reliance on recycling as a solution.

"The fantasy that we can recycle our way out of the plastic pollution predicament is a false solution pedaled to us by the unholy alliance of Big Oil and Big Plastic.

"To really make a dent in the tide of plastic pollution, we need to get rid of throwaway plastic drink bottles altogether, and establish refillable alternatives and systems to collect and reuse alternatives such as glass."