Petition calls for end of single-use takeaway packaging

A petition calling for the end of single-use food and drink packaging and the creation of policies to help businesses offer reusable options was accepted by Environment Minister David Parker, after being presented to Parliament this week.

About 10,000 people signed the petition calling for the ban of items such as disposable takeaway coffee cups and lids, food containers, cutlery, and single-serve sauce and condiment sachets and pottles, urging the Government to introduce policies to incentivise reusable alternatives.

The Green Party's Eugenie Sage and National's Scott Simpson, who were Associate Environment Ministers in the past, also attended.

Takeaway Throwaways policy spokesperson Hannah Blumhardt said they were calling for the Government to phase out single use, disposable food and drink packaging and to introduce targeted regulation and investment "to drive the uptake and scale of accessible reuse systems so that businesses have something to transition to".

She said the upcoming phase-out of some serviceware items was "awesome, but there's more to do".

"These phase-outs only target a handful of items and they also target items that contain plastic. This creates the risk of regrettable substitution where the business simply swap out single use plastic for single use something else."

"It's almost like it's so hard for us to imagine where reuse is the norm," with the temptation of a quick fix, she said.

"It’s a systemic problem."

She said it was difficult for businesses to move to reusable items without support.

"One thing we often hear with serviceware is, 'why don't we just use compostable products instead?'"

The Ministry for the Environment has described compostable products as "often not properly processed and end up in our landfills, adding to our greenhouse gas emissions by producing methane".

Other challenges include contaminating recycling bins and our domestic soft plastic collection schemes, New Zealand having limited sorting and processing infrastructure in to properly manage compostable packaging, and the incorrect belief compostable products can break down when littered, which sees them end up as contaminants in waterways or the sea.

"It's not enough just to ban things, we have to build those reusable alternatives, look to what's happening overseas and we would like to see Government leadership," Blumhardt said.

She said there was some "amazing businesses", such as those in hospitality that had designed their business around using reusable items.

However it was "really hard when the system is set up for single use".

By October this year, the Government is phasing out items such as PVC meat trays, polystyrene takeaway packaging, and expanded polystyrene food and drink packaging, plastic stirrers and plastic cotton buds.

It is also getting rid of oxo-degradable and photo-degradable products, which are fossil-fuel based plastics "with additives to degrade the product faster than traditional plastic when exposed to light, oxygen or in a landfill", the Environment Minister said.

Mid-next year, plastic produce bags, plates and cutlery, straws and fruit labels will be gone, with all other PVC and polystyrene food and drink packaging banned from mid-2025.

When asked why, with cross party support on tackling plastic pollution, the Government could not do more, Parker said they were banning many single use plastics "this very year".

"Like plastic cutlery, and things that aren't really necessary."

He said it would stop about three billion items going to landfill.

"There is more that needs to be done but we're progressively moving."

He said there had been a proposal to ban single use plastic wipes that parents used cleaning babies while changing nappies, "and we found that was a little bit complicated because we didn't quite have the non-plastic alternative for use".

"We've delayed that but we're still considering that issue so that we can develop more alternatives."