Polystyrene next target in war on plastic

Polystyrene cups are next to go. Photo: Getty Images
Polystyrene cups are next to go. Photo: Getty Images
Polystyrene meat trays, cups and takeaway food containers are the next targets in the battle to phase out single-use plastics.

“Our ban on plastic bags has already made a difference as we confront our enormous long-term challenge to tackle plastic waste,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says. 

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Photo: Getty Images
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Photo: Getty Images

She announced the plan today to phase out polystyrene containers in conjunction with the release of a report for dealing with waste.

Ardern welcomed the Rethinking Plastics in Aotearoa New Zealand report, released by her Chief Science Adviser Prof Juliet Gerrard.

“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.

“I share this concern for our natural environment – one that sustains our tourism, trade and our national identity,” she said.

The Government’s next steps to tackle plastic waste include:

• Setting goals to shift away from low-value and hard-to-recycle plastic

• Our first target will be to move away from single-use packaging and beverage containers made of hard-to-recycle PVC and polystyrene. Examples include polystyrene meat trays, cups and takeaway food containers. We will work towards ensuring that these are made of high-value alternatives like PET, HDPE and polypropylene, which can be recycled and reprocessed

• Stimulate innovation and development of solutions to the soft plastic problem

• Accelerate work with local government and industry on better and more consistent kerbside collection of recyclables

• With industry, continue work to develop a labelling scheme for packaging, including plastic packaging

“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,” Ardern said.

Associate Minister for the Environment Eugenie Sage said the report reaffirms and extends the Government’s ambitious plan to reduce waste, which includes:

• A container return scheme for drink bottles and cans

• Regulated product stewardship schemes for tough waste issues such as e-waste, tyres and batteries

• A National Resource Recovery work programme in response to China and other countries’ bans on importing waste and recyclables

• Improving waste data

• Expanding and improving the landfill levy to help fund more ways to recover, re-use and reprocess materials

• A $40 million Provincial Growth Fund investment to turn plastic waste into useful material for businesses and consumers.

“New Zealanders often tell me how concerned they are about the amount of plastics ending up in our oceans and harming fish, marine mammals, seabirds, and turtles,” Sage said.

“A lot of this plastic waste doesn’t need to be created in the first place.

“Our goal must be to make Aotearoa an economy where plastic rarely becomes waste or pollution. As Prof Gerrard says there is no silver bullet and we need a systems change. The recommendations in this report will help us to achieve this.

“I aim to have the full Government response to the Rethinking Plastics report confirmed within six months,” she said.

Since the 1950s, 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic has been produced globally and nearly 80 per cent of that has gone to the dump or been discarded in the environment. Some 36 per cent of plastic produced today is single-use packaging.

Key recommendations include:

1. Implement a National Plastics Action Plan

An overarching recommendation to guide Aotearoa New Zealand’s transition to a circular economy for plastics.

2. Improve plastics data collection

A series of recommendations to fill known knowledge gaps and develop measures to co-ordinate and standardise data collection on plastics to guide decision-making.

3. Embed rethinking plastics in the government agenda

A series of recommendations that address opportunities for government to demonstrate best practice, ensure efforts to mitigate issues related to plastics are enduring, and collaborate internationally on these issues.

4. Create and enable consistency in design, use and disposal

A series of recommendations to keep plastics in circulation through improved recycling systems and sector-specific approaches to rethinking plastics.

5. Innovate and amplify

A series of recommendations related to research and innovation for plastics.

6. Mitigate environmental and health impacts of plastics

A series of recommendations to fill knowledge gaps and support ongoing research on the impacts of plastics.

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