100,000 people sign petition to ban plastic bottles

Environmental activists have presented a petition to ban single-use plastic bottles to Parliament today, with the backing of 100,000 signatures.

MPs who glanced out the window at Parliament's lawn today had a vivid illustration of the damage caused by single-use plastic - a larger-than-life sculpture of a toroa, its ten-metre steel-frame wing span filled with discarded plastic bottles.

Greenpeace activist Juressa Lee said the sculpture - nicknamed Birdy - was created by artist Michael Simpson as a tribute to a real albatross, which was found struggling in the surf by a family at a Napier beach.

"They took that bird to the vet, but the vet didn't know what was wrong. The toroa wasn't eating. That bird died and they cut it open to find a 500ml plastic bottle that the toroa had swallowed whole."

The toroa's death inspired Greenpeace's campaign to ban single-use plastic bottles, culminating in the petition presented to Parliament today with 100,000 signatures, she said.

Massey University wildlife health expert Stuart Hunter carried out the post-mortem on the emaciated toroa in January 2020.

"For a bird to starve to death, it doesn't take long, a week or less.

"The rest of the intestinal tract had no food in it, there was just the plastic bottle and a couple of bits of balloon. So the poor thing wouldn't have been able to eat."

Whoever discarded the bottle had taken the trouble to screw the cap back on but apparently could not be bothered to find a bin, he said.

Lee said New Zealanders discarded more than a billion plastic bottles every year but no-one liked to see them cluttering the beach, bobbing in the waves or choking wildlife.

Yet it was the plastic you could not see that was doing the most damage.

"The biggest problem with plastic is that it never goes away and it breaks down into microplastics and you can't clean that up.

"It's pervasive, it's everywhere, and it's harmful."

Green MP Eugenie Sage, who received the petition today, was Associate Minister for the Environment during the last government.

The petition showed there was an appetite for change, in her view.

"Phasing out single use plastic bags was the first step and all the other work with the container return scheme followed that.

"We didn't look at phasing out plastic bottles then because there was so much work to do and getting the land fill levy established was the critical priority then.

"But it should be on the agenda, it should be part of the waste strategy and there should be the tools under the new Waste Minimisation Act to do it."

The industry body, Plastics New Zealand, said it was working with the government and stakeholders to cut pollution.

"Plastics enable much of our current quality of life (healthcare, food supply, technology, transport etc) and the products we rely on for our net zero-carbon future. It is important we use this valuable resource responsibly and ensure it does not pollute our land or waterways."

Transitioning to a circular plastics economy will involve eliminating unnecessary and problematic plastics and re-designing systems to ensure resources can be recovered, reused and recycled at scale, a spokesperson said.

However, Juressa Lee from Greenpeace said recycling was "a false solution".

"It requires virgin plastic input to make another bottle and the plastic degrades over time.

"So recycling will never reduce the need for new plastic."

Producers warn switching to glass will also add to transport and hit grocery shoppers in the pocket.

But Lee said many people still alive remember a time before everything came in plastic.

"So I believe we can very easily switch back."

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