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Government phasing out polystyrene food containers in plan to tackle plastic

Convenient but unhealthy polystyrene lunch boxes with take away meal on wooden table

The government has announced the next steps it will take to tackle the plastic waste problem for the long term, following the success of its single-use plastic bag ban earlier this year.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said number one on the government’s agenda is to phase out more single-use plastics and move away from single-use food and beverage containers made of hard-to-recycle plastics like 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,” the prime minister said. “A number of other countries have already gone down this path and so can we.”

Ardern also mentioned better labelling of plastic packaging and to raise public awareness of the best ways to recycle plastic items, all of which were recommendations from a report presented by chief science advisor Juliet Gerrard, ‘Rethinking Plastics in Aotearoa New Zealand’.

Gerrard, in her report, called for better collection of data on plastics to guide decision-making and asked for further study on the impact plastics have on the environment and human health. Ardern fully supports the report and said that stopping plastic from ending up in the natural environment was a “personal priority.”

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

Ardern also mentioned that one of the steps the government should take to solve the plastic waste problem is to accelerate work with local government and industry on better and more consistent kerbside collection of recyclables.

“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,” she 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; and improving waste data among others.

A full response from the government to the report presented is expected in about six months, Sage 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, the report indicated. Some 36 per cent of plastic produced today is single-use packaging.

“A lot of this plastic waste doesn’t need to be created in the first place,” Sage said. “Our goal must be to make Aotearoa an economy where plastic rarely becomes waste or pollution,” she said. “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.”

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