The Ministry for the Environment has announced a consultation on banning some problematic plastics and some single use plastic items. There are two proposals being consulted on:

  1. banning some hard-to-recycle PVC and polystyrene packaging and oxo-degradable plastic products 
  2. banning seven single-use plastic items, including plastic straws, drink stirrers, produce bags both plastic and compostable, tableware (e.g. plastic plates, bowls, cutlery) and non-compostable fruit stickers.

 The consultation document can be found here. It outlines the options for phasing out these plastics, including:

  • a voluntary agreement with industry and businesses
  • plastic reduction targets
  • labelling requirements
  • levy or tax
  • voluntary or regulated product stewardship
  • mandatory phase-out (MfE’s preferred option)
  • mandatory recycled content for hard-to-recycle packaging or
  • no change

While single use coffee cups and wet wipes are not included in these proposed phase outs, MfE is interested to hear ideas on how to reduce the use of these products and the consultation includes some questions around the future phasing out of these items.

Make your submission here.

A press release issued by the Behaviour Change Sector Group can be found here.

A press release issued by the Organic Materials Sector Groups can be found here.

FAQ (provided by MfE)

1.How long is the consultation period, and when are the products likely to be banned?

The consultation will be open for 12 weeks until 5pm 4 December 2020. 

All phase-outs are proposed to come into force by January 2025 with some phase-outs to happen earlier depending on the type of packaging or item. See below for more detail.

Hard-to-recycle plastics are proposed across two stages

Stage 1 is proposed for phase-outs to be in place by January 2023 and includes:

  • All PVC food and beverage packaging
  • Some polystyrene food and beverage packaging
  • All oxo-degradable plastic products.

 Stage 2 is proposed for phase-outs to be in place by January 2025 and includes:

  • All remaining polystyrene food and beverage packaging
  • All other expanded polystyrene (EPS) packaging (eg, EPS packaging used in homewares and electronics).

Single-use items

MfE have not set dates for individual single-use items as this will likely vary across items, but they propose that all bans are in place by January 2025.

2. What is the PVC and polystyrene packaging most affected by this phase-out, and what can it be replaced by?

There is a range of items that will be affected by a phase-out of PVC and polystyrene packaging. Common items made from PVC include meat trays and biscuit trays, which can be replaced by PET (type 1 plastic). PET is high in value and recyclable here in New Zealand.

For polystyrene (including expanded polystyrene) common items that will be captured by a phase-out include expanded polystyrene takeaway containers and cups (eg, styrofoam), polystyrene meat trays, some sushi packaging and yoghurt pottles. Many of these items can be replaced by PET or polypropylene (type 5), or in some cases paper-based alternatives.

For takeaway containers the best alternative is a reusable container –  many cafes and takeaway shops  are now allowing ‘bring your own’ containers over the last year.

3. What are the seven single-use plastic items identified for phasing out?

The seven single-use plastic items proposed for phase-out include:

  • Plastic straws
  • Plastic cotton-buds
  • Drink stirrers
  • Tableware (eg. plastic plates, bowls, cutlery)
  • Some single-use cups and lids, made from hard-to-recycle plastics (types 3, 4, 6 and 7 or plastic lined paper cups) – excluding disposable coffee cups
  • Single-use produce bags both plastic, compostable and oxy degradable
  • Non-compostable produce stickers.

It is proposed for most items that the phase-out include plastic of any type, including bio-based plastics, compostable, degradable and biodegradable plastics.  

4. Do you expect the public to begin phasing out these products ahead of the bans like they did with plastic shopping bags?

 Yes, by providing a signal now on the dates for phase-out MfE aims to allow sufficient time for both businesses and the public to adjust. They suggest that the public use this time to consider how they can prepare for the phase-outs. Please note that the final dates for phase-out will be subject to consultation and further policy decisions.

5. Why were these chosen, and not others, such as single-use disposable coffee cups?

 The Ministry for the Environment considered a number of problem single-use plastic items. It then assessed these against criteria including environmental harm, availability of alternatives, international precedent and likely impact of a phase-out. This included the impact on business and the amount of behaviour change that would be required by the public.

Items like coffee-cups and wet wipes (which often contain plastic) were acknowledged as having high environmental impact but low availability of alternatives – particularly for mobile vendors, while travelling, or in health care settings. Instead, MfE are seeking further information on how New Zealanders could reduce the impact of these items while they work towards a potential phase-out in the future.  

6. How will a ban on non-compostable fruit stickers impact exporters of New Zealand produce, who need to differentiate from their competitors?

The proposal applies to produce sold into the New Zealand market. Subject to feedback received through consultation, MfE are not proposing a phase-out on the stickers used for exports. This is for two reasons:

  • Fruit stickers are useful as a means of increasing traceability for food safety
  • Exported produce can travel for significant lengths of time in which compostable stickers may degrade.

However, there are alternatives to stickers, such as signposting at the point of display, and MfE would encourage New Zealand exporters to consider how they can reduce their waste footprint in New Zealand as well as overseas.

7. Have you consulted with the affected sectors, including the horticulture industry, before making this announcement?

MfE have met with a number of key stakeholders following the announcement in December (at the launch of the Rethinking Plastics report) that they would look at options for moving away from hard-to-recycle plastic packaging and consider more single-use item phase-outs.  This helped to inform the final policy proposals.

8. How will you make sure people who need plastic straws can still access them?

An exemption is proposed to allow specified retailers such as pharmacies to stock straws to enable disabled persons or their carers to purchase them as needed. Restaurants and other food outlets could also be allowed to provide plastic straws with food or drink upon request.

This is the approach that has been taken in the UK regulations, which come into effect in October 2020.

Consultation will help to test whether this approach will be sufficient and to inform an approach that will work for both those who need straws to live in a dignified way, and for the environment.