More support to reduce the impact of plastics

  • Hon Eugenie Sage

As part of the plan to turn around New Zealand’s mounting waste problem, the Government is investing in research to reduce the impact of plastics, improve knowledge about composting, and reduce product labelling waste, the Associate Environment Minister Eugenie Sage announced in Rotorua today.

“We know New Zealanders want to see less single use plastic waste and less environmental harm from plastics. Compostable packaging materials are one option when there is no reusable alternative and critically, when the materials are actually compostable,” says Eugenie Sage.

Nearly half a million dollars of ($481,134.70) of funding from the Ministry for the Environment’s Waste Minimisation Fund has been allocated to Crown Research Institute Scion to put towards delivering three new waste initiatives to reduce plastic waste and help develop alternatives.

“This grant to Scion is part of the Government’s plan to tackle our mounting waste problem and help us shift to a clean, green, carbon neutral New Zealand.”

Scion will run a research project to improve knowledge of how materials such as compostable plastics, laminated materials and paper degrade in a range of New Zealand composting environments.

“This will help develop a clear labelling system for compostable materials and ensure that compostable packaging is a more viable and reliable alternative.

“There is a lot more work needed to ensure ”compostable” packaging reliably breaks down in home compost or commercial compost systems.  We want to ensure that products labelled as “compostable” don’t contain elements such as micro-plastics which cause contamination issues in the final compost product.”

Scion is also being funded to develop a national plastics roadmap to help shift the plastics sector to a more circular economy model.

“To reduce plastic in New Zealand, we need a better understanding of what plastic is being used domestically and where it ends up. We can then work what plastics we need and what types of plastic could be replaced with substitute materials, or recovered and reprocessed,” says Eugenie Sage.

“Around 60% of the plastics raw material imported into New Zealand goes into packaging.  Based on international studies, 99% of the current 250,000 tonnes of plastic going into New Zealand landfills each year could be diverted through improved product design, using products more than once, and recycling.”

Product labels are used for branding a variety of products from individual fruits and vegetables to beverages. Scion has also been funded to develop solutions to divert label waste from landfill.

“Each year New Zealand’s manufacturing industry uses billions of labels that are delivered on a roll of glassine paper, which cannot be recycled using conventional paper recycling methods. The roll is normally sent to landfill, which is what this third project will be aiming to divert,” concludes Eugenie Sage.