Design begins for plastic packaging stewardship scheme

A scheme is being set up that could see producers, users and sellers of plastic packaging responsible for the product once it's been used, in an attempt to reduce plastic waste.

It could be a significant step in New Zealand's waste management of plastics.

Plastic packaging - file.

Environment Minister David Parker said funding would come from the Waste Minimisation Fund to help design a scheme that would regulate stewardship of plastic packaging.

"Once in place it will require producers, brand owners, importers, retailers and consumers to take responsibility for collecting and dealing with plastic packaging."

"It really does feel like we're on a journey," Parker said. "This is a big deal."

Almost $1 million would go to the Packaging Forum to design a regulated plastic packaging product stewardship scheme over two years, while the Packaging Forum and the NZ Food and Grocery Council would provide $1.36m.

Parker said out of other stewardship schemes the Government has pursued, plastic packaging stewardship "in some ways, it's the biggest and the most complex of all".

"Obviously plastics will play a continuing and important role, but plastic waste, including microplastic, is causing problems."

A steering group will be set up, with representatives including producers, recyclers, local government and community groups to "draw on the knowledge of product stewardship" from current schemes and that of overseas.

It comes as New Zealand calls time on some hard-to-recycle plastics, with the first tranche kicking in October 1 involving PVC food trays and containers, polystyrene and expanded polystyrene takeaway containers, plastic drink stirrers and cotton buds.

Mid-next year, single use plastic produce bags, plastic plates, bowls and cutlery will go, and by mid-2025 all other PVC and polystyrene food and drink packaging will be phased out.

About 60% of imported plastics are used for packaging in New Zealand.

The Environment Ministry estimates each New Zealander sends about 60kg of plastic waste to landfill a year.

Exported plastic waste

Figures provided to 1News from StatsNZ showed more than 13.5 million kgs of ethylene polymers (the most common type of plastic) classed under waste, parings and scrap, was exported offshore in 2021.

While 6.8 million kgs of other plastic waste, parings and scrap was sent overseas.

The main recipients of the plastic was Malaysia, with more then eight million kgs exported.

This was a drop from 2020, where 14.6 million kgs was sent.

In the first six months of 2022, New Zealand exported 1.6 million kgs of ethylene polymer waste and 1.5 million kgs of other plastic waste to Malaysia.

In 2020, changes required hard to recycle plastics to have a permit to go offshore from 2021. Plastics type 1, 2 and 5, such as milk and soft drink bottles and ice cream containers are exempt.