New Zealanders will be farewelling their plastics – bags, ear buds, spoons and straws – as the government attempts to match the country’s reality to its “clean green” reputation.
Currently one of the top 10 per-capita producers of landfill waste in the world, New Zealand has announced it will ban a swathe of single-use plastics, including cotton buds, bags, cutlery, plates and bowls, straws and fruit labels.
“Every day, New Zealanders throw away an estimated 159g of plastic waste per person, making us some of the highest waste generators in the world,” the environment minister, David Parker, said.
The bans, which will be phased in between 2022 and 2025, would “ensure we live up to our clean, green reputation”, he said. Officials estimate that the new policy will remove more than 2bn single-use plastic items from the country’s landfills and environment each year.
New Zealand had already banned most single-use plastic bags in 2019, but the changes will include packaging for produce, as well as a range of other items. These steps follow similar bans overseas: outlawing plastic bags is now common around the world, and the UK introduced a ban on plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds in 2020. The EU has voted for a similar ban to be introduced this year. In some countries, Covid-19 has stalled progress on plastics – a number of US states rolled back their bans on plastic bags and halted new legislation to limit plastic products as the pandemic reached its height. Environmental groups have also reported enormous quantities of “Covid waste” – including plastic gloves, hand sanitiser bottles and surgical masks – are clogging oceans.
The new bans were an important step, but still missed many of the largest producers of plastic waste in New Zealand, said Assoc Prof Terri-Ann Berry, the director of Environmental Solutions Research Centre at Unitec. She said that while drawing public attention to household waste was vital, “it’s very easy to forget that some of our more commercial sectors are also big plastic users”. Construction and demolition, for example, accounted for up to 50% of landfill waste in New Zealand.
The New Zealand government also has coffee cups and wet wipes in its sights, but Parker said work needed to be done to devise alternatives, and the government would announce the next steps for those items next year. The government also announced a fund for businesses to research alternatives to single-use plastics.