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Declaring Plastic Packaging A Priority Product Will Be Bad For The Environment

The Government’s decision to declare plastic packaging a priority product will do more harm than good, says Plastics NZ.

Associate Environment Minister, Eugenie Sage, today announced six products to be declared ‘priority products’ signalling the establishment of regulated product stewardship schemes under the Waste Minimisation Act.

Rachel Barker, CEO of Plastics NZ, says the sector supports product stewardship for most of the declared products, but declaring ‘Plastic Packaging’ while excluding other packaging materials will have unintended consequences.

“We welcome the intention here to do the right thing for the environment and for New Zealand. Our sector is very much behind this and already making strong progress. But if the Government wants to have genuine environmental impact, the focus should be wider, not just on plastics but packaging in general”

Ms Barker says a good stewardship system gives producers incentive to improve their products and packaging, while maintaining a whole-of-life perspective. This ensures that any changes avoid environmentally damaging outcomes.

“Focusing on plastic packaging rather than all packaging is almost guaranteed to produce negative impacts on the environment and New Zealanders. Placing a levy on plastics, as is usual with stewardship schemes, will drive producers to alternatives with no view to reduced environmental footprint.

“Plastic is lightweight and very tough. To match plastic, the alternatives need to be much thicker and heavier. When looking at whole-of-life impacts plastic out-performs most other packaging in terms of shelf-life, carbon emissions and water use.

“Moving away from plastic packaging without proper analysis will result in increased food waste, and potentially increased emissions,” says Barker.

“This is a real shame when there is significant work being put into transitioning New Zealand to a low emissions circular economy for plastics. We have seen many positive changes with packaging moved to plastic types that are recyclable here in New Zealand. We’ve also seen a progressive increase in the amount of recycled content used.

“Another thing that many people don’t realise is that many of the alternatives to plastic packaging are produced offshore. While the investments into our waste and resource recovery system will help create jobs, this focus on plastics packaging may result in job losses within local manufacturers.

“It also reduces the ability of New Zealand to cope with disruptions such as those recently seen with Covid-19. Without our local plastics packaging manufacturers much of our domestic food supply wouldn’t have made it to those who needed it.

“There are many challenges inherent in this declaration of plastic packaging as a priority product. Plastics NZ looks forward to working with Industry and Government to explore the issues and develop a way forward that works for New Zealand Inc.”

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