Monday, June 28, 2021

One word: Plastics

The New Zealand Government has announced plans to begin phasing out what they call “problem plastics”, things like non-recyclable plastic and consumer single-use plastics. This has been anticipated since July 1, 2019, when single-use plastic bags were banned. It’s a good and important thing to do.

From late in 2022, some 18 months from now, PVC meat trays, polystyrene (aka styrofoam) takeaway packaging, EPS grocery packaging, degradable plastic products (eg, oxo and photo degradable), plastic drink stirrers, and plastic stemmed cotton swabs will all be banned.

In mid 2023, some two years from now, the government will also ban single-use plastic items: Supermarket produce bags, plastic tableware (cutlery, plates and bowls), drink straws, and non compostable fruit labels.

The reality is that New Zealand is already a long way along the road toward moving away from such things, and just as happened with the ban on single-use plastic shopping bags, this will provide the final push. Everyone knew this was coming at some point, so I don’t have any sympathy for corporations and industries that are whining about not having “enough time” to find alternatives.

I’ve already heard some of the complaints from corporations. For example, supermarket chains say that two years isn’t enough time to eliminate plastic produce bags, something they’ve been trying to eliminate for at least a year already. Paper is one obvious alternative, but maybe they can think a little more creatively? How about selling cheap branded mesh bags to consumers (I talked about my own mesh produce bags back in June of 2016). After all, they already sell cheap branded reusable shopping bags. They could embrace this as an opportunity to embrace environmental and social responsibility.

The non-compostable stickers on fresh produce annoy me to no end, so I have zero sympathy for the moaners in the industry. They’re a relatively recent development, and I can’t think of any benefit that consumers get from them. Instead, they provide a way for producers to brand fresh produce for marketing purposes and, at least theoretically, provide some tracking information. When I was a kid, I remember oranges had the brand printed on the peel, something that obviously won’t work for all produce (like apples), but, then, why do they even use labels at all? Consumers hate them. I think they should just drop them altogether, but if they insist on having them for some bizarre reason, then the labels must be home compostable because a lot of people compost at home and commercially-compostable things don’t usually degrade.

Other products already had non-plastic alternatives corporations moved away from. For example, when I was young, the stems of cotton swabs were made of paper, not plastic. We had paper plates, and then better paper plates (because the originals weren’t very good for BBQs where people put their food on their laps). Drink straws always used to be made of paper (I remember some were waxed paper), and, in fact, paper straws are all you can buy at a supermarket right now.

A lot of companies have been experimenting with alternatives, like disposable cutlery, and even plates, made from wood. Washable, reusable steel drinking straws are cheap and available everywhere (I don’t personally have any; I don’t use straws often and have way too many paper ones to use first). I’m sure there are plenty of creative people in search of opportunities who can come up with a lot more alternatives to single-use plastic products—and now they’ll have the incentive thanks to the announced timeline for banning such plastics.

In fact, in November the government will launch a $50 million Plastics Innovation Fund to “help support projects that reimagine how we make, use and dispose of plastics”. Environment Minister David Parker said, “We need to back New Zealanders to innovate, find solutions and then scale them up.” (Full disclosure: I know and worked with David Parker when I was a volunteer in the Labour Party).

What all of this is about is making New Zealand cleaner and greener, with a circular economy in which nothing is wasted if we can prevent it. “We want to be part of global solutions to tackle the impacts of plastic pollution,” Parker said. For years now, I’ve been trying to do my part, as I’ve discussed on this blog. New Zealand, too, is trying to do its part. Cynics say our efforts are too small to make any difference, but the retort to that is simple: It’s always better to be part of the solution than part of the problem.

This is a very good move.

The image up top is a NZ Labour Party social media ad promoting the announcement. I just like the look of it.


Roger Owen Green said...

And Arthur in the Dustin Hoffman role.

Arthur Schenck said...

These days, I'm probably more Anne Bancroft…