Whole of Community Solution Required on Plastic Waste

plastic waste

Packaging New Zealand welcomes Labour’s recent policy focus on problematic plastic wastes as an acknowledgement of the fact that a ‘whole-of-community’ solution is required to tackle a very complex problem.

Packaging New Zealand members have been at the forefront of the debate on how best to manage intractable wastes including some plastics.

"As brand owners, manufacturers and recyclers we have for years been confronted by the conflict inherent in plastic packaging between environmental responsibility, food safety, consumer convenience, household cost and legal compliance," said Packaging NZ executive director, Sharon Humphreys.

"Our members have been made as aware as the government of the growing problem of persistent plastics, including in the marine environment. We are similarly regularly reminded of our obligations to ‘close the loop’ by facilitating recycling, increasing convenience and maintaining hygiene, all at the lowest problem cost to consumers and society."

Labour’s recognition that investment in domestic recycling industries as a contribution to local employment is welcomed. The focus on high-tech nationwide recycling, local processing increasing employment and reducing the export of NZ’s waste problems to other countries mirrors the responses seen in many other countries.

In order for action on reducing waste and plastics to deliver the outcomes, we all aspire to it is important that government intervention recognises:

  1. Investing waste taxes in local reprocessing should complement rather than undermine the recovery and recycling that occurs without subsidy.
  2. Expensive and long-lived investment in systems of collection, recovery and reuse require commitments that transcend NZ’s three-year electoral cycle.
  3. Cost-effective collection and recycling from a small and remote community may take a different form from that of a densely populated urban centre, in the same way, that access to health care, airports and sports facilities varies around the country. The idea of a single system and pricing may be superficially attractive but is unlikely to work effectively.
  4. Imposing “extended producer responsibility” obligations on manufacturers and retailers can never fully absolve other parts of the community, including consumers, from playing their part. ‘Litter’ is an antisocial action which the absence of a recycling bin on every street corner does not absolve. The responsibility to reduce, reuse and recycle is as much, or more, an obligation on all of us as consumers as it is on NZ’s business owners.