How valid is the upcoming plastic ban, and will it make any difference? Part 1
In our previous post, we looked at the current proposal to phase out a multitude of single-use plastics, the factors that enable closed-loop success and the cultural and systems challenges that remain. After decades of earnest public campaigns, we are recycling. However, today, that carefully sorted and rinsed recycling is ending up in the trash.
According to this report, Reducing the impact of plastic on our environment published by the Ministry for the Environment, plastic collected for recycling is roughly 45,000 tonnes, and 90 percent of that recycling is exported. 380,000 tonnes of plastic waste is landfilled. (Refer to chart, page 204, a summary of what we know about the amount of plastic in Rethinking plastics in Aotearoa, New Zealand). When we throw something away, it’s hard to truly grasp its final destination. Where does it actually go? Where does that 380,000 tonnes of plastic waste go?
A Stuff assessment found that 17 councils have less than a decade remaining on existing or consented landfills. It is trash that will never be recycled. But why is so much plastic filling up this avalanche—and as promised, not actually recycled? By ending up in landfills instead, does it prove that we’re all just wish-cycling? Throwing something in the recycling bin and understandably assuming it will actually be recycled? And your aluminium cans, Re. News recently reported cans—a material that can be recycled indefinitely is shipped overseas for recycling. That is, the ones you have not crushed. They go to landfill too.
Limitations of the government phase-out of key single-use plastic items
In the last decade, our waste sent to landfill rose by 45 percent. We’re following a pattern of extracting resources from the Earth, turning it into stuff that we use for a short time, then discarding it in landfill and starting the process again. Currently, if a waste facility receives a particular item that it cannot sort or accept, it is subsequently transported elsewhere for disposal—90 percent of it overseas, creating emissions and contributing to waste streams.
The impacts of removing hard-to-recycle materials out of the recycling system altogether remain limited. The New Zealand government announced in June 2021, it will phase out single-use plastics between 2022 and 2025. Below, is the phases of this single-use plastics ban.
By mid-2022—Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) meat trays, polystyrene (PS) takeaway food and beverage packaging, expanded polystyrene (EPS) food and beverage packaging, degradable plastic products, plastic drink stirrers and plastic-stemmed cotton buds.
By mid-2023—Plastic produce bags, plastic plates, bowls and cutlery, plastic straws and plastic produce labels.
By mid-2025—All other PVC food and beverage packaging. All other PS food and beverage packaging. More information is available on the Ministry for the Environment website.
Yet aims to accelerate the plastic waste-free future with sustainable materials that are functional and already developed—bio-based certified compostable plastics are noted as problematic. Instead, the Ministry for the Environment advises such practical alternatives “readily available for the items and plastic types proposed for phase-out,” include non-practical alternatives [reusables] and plastics [types 1 (PET), 2 (HDPE) and 5]. This site also notes that plastics (3, 4, 5, 6 and 7) are often not worth recycling, noting these plastics are harder to recycle combined with a market low-value post-recovery. However, Ministry for the Environment suggests businesses adopt number 5 plastics.
Contamination remains an issue for recycling, as per the statement on recycle.co.nz, “Some (take-away food and drink containers) get contaminated with food waste and cost more to be recycled”. Contamination is not an issue for composting systems where the containers and food were designed to be composted together. Interestingly, the Reduce, Reuse, Recycle concept, broadened by three additional R’s, the most desirable—Rot (i.e. compost) is not considered as part of this nations’ approach to waste minimisation.
“Around 10,000 tonnes of plastic is recycled onshore. That is likely to be an overestimate as a proportion of plastic collected for recycling will be contaminated and unable to be recycled.” — To What Extent Can We Quantify Aotearoa’s Plastic?
For the longest time, there has been little incentive to consume less. Convenience culture has perpetuated existing waste issues. In reality, 91% of the worlds’ plastic is landfilled, so this approach is not working. Recycling is not working. Legislation, standards, or commonly adopted criteria, certifications of new biomaterials—all continuing to accelerate and inspire the shift towards a circular economy. Yes, currently, we lack the required infrastructure, but such barriers aren’t an excuse for not innovating for moving forwards.
When considering material lifecycles, we can trace their progression from raw states to product and back again, either as compost—decomposed back into its natural elements or returned to the Earth. All our products are designed with circularity in mind. In the next post in this series, we look at how much plastic is imported into Aotearoa, where that plastic is used and Extended Producer Responsibility.
If you found this article interesting, share it with others. If you are a business seeking to reduce your impact further, please get in touch to learn more about our products and closed-loop collection service, Compost Collect. If you are an impacted business, are you prepared for the phase-out? Please get in touch.