A few days ago the Government announced that it would progress the very welcome work that National did in its last days in office against microbeads. These tiny pieces of plastic are entering the natural ecosystem at a rate that has alarmed ecologists, with dissections of a wide range of wildlife being found with microbeads in their digestive system. With public interest in reducing plastics negative impact on the environment ramping up, it is time to look at how New Zealand has fared in addressing issues around our plastic obsession.
The Waste Minimisation Act 2008 sets out to achieve four particular aims:
- The implementation of a levy on all waste to fund council, community and business programmes reduce the amount of waste they generate
- Encourages in the first instance consumers, retailers, importers, producers and brand owners to take responsibility through stewardship schemes
- Enable regulations to make it mandatory for reporting on waste and improve the availability of information to public, private sector and government agencies
- Establish a board to provide regulatory advice
But cutting plastic bags and micro beads need to be just the start of a comprehensive move against single use plastics. One example is plastic straws which proliferate at all fast food restaurants, other eating establishments and are readily available at supermarkets and places like The Warehouse. Whilst there is a case for some plastic drinking straws remaining available with disabled people being identified as one group who would gain from their continued availability, could paper straws that biodegrade be a potential replacement?
Another one where changes could potentially happen are single use fizzy drink bottles – the 420ml, 600ml, 1.5L and 2.25L sizes – as these are sometimes suspected, of having bisphenol A, which is a suspected cancer causing carcinogen in its plastic. This has made me wonder if it would be possible to change the substances used in plastic to enable them to be more easily recycled or possibly biodegrade.
Around 8% of what goes to the landfill each year is plastic, and represents about 200,000 tons out of a total of 2.46 million tons.
When I was a child, there was a popular recycling programme that operated in a local supermarket car park where you could drop off your empty aluminium cans. In return the people operating the drop off point would weigh up the sack you had dropped off and pay back a set price per kilogramme. It was a good way to teach children a bit about recycling and economics at the same time. I wonder if such a programme would work today.
Compared with other countries, notably those in Europe, New Zealand somewhat lags behind in terms of recycling. This is not just across plastics, but also paper, aluminium and wood based products as well.
So, whilst progress is starting to be made again, it has much distance to cover before we really are a 21st century nation in recycling.