The government has announced it will phase out a bunch of problem plastics and single-use plastics by July 2025. 

A new government fund of $50 million will also support projects that find new ways to remove waste in products and packaging and improve recycling solutions. 

The plastics to be phased out will be:

  • Hard to recycle food and drink packaging made from PVC and polystyrene and some degradable plastic products.
  • Single-use plastic items, including drink stirrers, cotton buds, single-use produce bags, cutlery, plates and bowls, straws, and fruit labels.

“Every day, New Zealanders throw away an estimated 159 grams of plastic waste per person, making us some of the highest waste generators in the world,” Environment Minister David Parker said in a statement on Sunday. 

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

David Parker said there is strong public and business support for changing the way we use plastic. The 2019 plastic bag ban has 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,” he said.

The plastics phase-outs will take place in three stages:

  • Late 2022: PVC meat trays, Polystyrene takeaway packaging, EPS grocery packaging, degradable plastic products (eg, oxo and photo degradable), plastic drink stirrers, plastic-stemmed cotton buds.
  • Mid 2023: Single-use plastic produce bags, plastic tableware (plates/bowls/cutlery), plastic straws, non-compostable produce labels. 
  • Mid 2025: All other PVC and polystyrene food and beverage packaging

“The timeframe for the phase-outs strikes a balance between the public call for urgent action and the time needed for businesses to adjust and for replacement products to be found,” said David Parker.

“We’re encouraging businesses and people to find reusable options. We know alternatives are readily available including recyclable plastic or paper-based containers.” 

National Party spokesperson for Environment Scott Simpson says the opposition is “broadly in agreement” with the government’s decision to phase out problematic plastics. However, he said, “these changes are not without costs.”

“Even a few cents extra on the price of multiple products will be a real challenge when added to their total weekly shopping bill,” says Scott Simpson. “We can hope it will be a price most people can afford.”

Scott Simpson also said it is important the needs of people with disabilities are considered. “They often have unique needs that require the use of single-use plastics. I have heard from people for whom the flexibility and hygiene of plastic straws cannot be replaced by organic alternatives.”

David Park also stated “work is needed” to ensure the phase-out does not have a detrimental impact on those who need to use single-use items such as plastic straws. 

The government has also announced there will be a fund of $50 million to support projects that find ways to remove waste in products and packaging, or ones that adopt and scale up existing technologies that switch to eco-friendly materials or more efficient recycling solutions.

“We expect the fund, which opens in November 2021, will attract a wide range of applicants from research institutes and businesses as well as sector groups, communities, and Māori organisations,” said David Parker.  

Physical Chemistry Professor Duncan McGillivray, whose work at the University of Auckland studies the effects of nanoplastics on biological systems said he is pleased to see the ban included funding to support plastic innovation, enabling us to rethink how we use or recycle plastics.

“Plastics are miraculous materials that lie at the heart of many modern materials technologies, but not all plastics are equal. New Zealand has an opportunity to develop our global position in reducing harm from plastics while developing expertise the world can call on."

Dr. Elspeth MacRae, Independent Owner of Bioeconomy Futures said the announcement is a step in the right direction, but it is also “critical” that not only packaging is targeted but other major waste culprits - such as construction and clothing - are also included in the initiative. 

“It will also be important how NZ deals with imports to NZ – both packaging and products.”

"We are only at the beginning of understanding the effects of this waste on our sea life and ourselves,” says Duncan McGillivray. “But it is clear that so far the only reliable solution is to prevent the release of problematic plastic waste in the first place.”

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