Rethinking Plastics in Aotearoa New Zealand

Keep cups with beach backgroundOur panel set out with a bold and broad scope – to find ways to reduce the size of the plastic shadow that is cast by modern life. While we initially tried to reduce this scope, we ended up realising that plastic is everywhere and we must approach it from all angles simultaneously. Tackling the problem of plastic waste needs a systems change, a collection of adjustments – some large, some small – across all aspects of society. To begin, we painted ourselves a vision of what the future could look like if we make these changes. We present a vision that sets the stage for what follows. Aotearoa New Zealand can rethink how we use plastic, but the evidence-base to support these decisions in a system-wide way is lacking. In order to support evidence-informed decisions, we have collated and synthesised information and expert opinion to provide government with a rigorous system-wide overview of plastic in 2019, in the context of international best practice.


Aotearoa New Zealand can rethink how we use plastic, but the evidence base to support these decisions in a system-wide way is lacking


Rethinking Plastics aims to contribute to a society-wide change of heart and practice. Clear national goals, readily available information for shoppers and household use, aligned infrastructure and a few well-targeted rule changes could achieve significant, durable improvements while researchers and innovative businesses create new materials and business models. We seek to provide a trusted source of information for the public on the state of plastic use and a pathway forward for Aotearoa New Zealand. The global spotlight is on plastics and there is a groundswell of activity to build on. We are at a pivotal point where we can rethink how we use plastics to reduce the negative impacts while retaining its many benefits. Now is the time to seize this opportunity.



Our vision

Our panel imagined a future of what plastic use could look like in Aotearoa New Zealand, which set the stage for Rethinking Plastics.


Our recommendations that follow reflect the scale of the plastics problem that Aotearoa New Zealand currently faces. There is no silver bullet to fix this issue – we need to pull every lever.

Plastic resource portal

A central resource for information on plastics across the entire value chain, including the effects of plastic pollution.
Plastics Vision Image

Case Studies

What’s stopping the uptake of new materials?

New material innovations start with research and development. Through an iterative process, researchers (often alongside their industry partners) make and test materials until the new material has all…

Plastics – is plant-based really greener?

Increasingly, plastics are being advertised as ‘made from plants’, with the implication that it is better for the planet. But is this really true? Chen et al. used LCA to compare the environmental…

Modern landfill – a waste-to-energy innovation

In 2016, Aucklanders sent 1.6 million tonnes of waste to landfill for disposal. Around 14% came from household kerbside collections, and 86% from commercial and other activities. That’s over one ton…

Reducing the carbon footprint of plastics by using recycled plastic

In a study of the carbon footprint of projected global plastic use between 2015 and 2050, Zheng and Suh modelled a theoretical situation of 100% recycling of plastic in 2050, and found it had a 25%…

The Pure Tour

The PURE (Plastic Use Resistance Education) tour was a collaborative project between Massey University, the Algalita Foundation of California, Para Kore, Okeanos and the Los Angeles-5 Gyres Institu…

Reuse systems in global supply chains

The process of getting products and packaging to supermarket shelves is largely out of sight and out of mind for many people. However, within supply chains there is both significant use of plastic…

How big is the plastic clothing problem for Aotearoa New Zealand?

Some plastic articles of clothing are captured in the ‘Plastics and articles thereof’ harmonised trade codes in import data from Statistics NZ, but this does not account for all synthetic fibres im…

Uncertainty around data on plastic beverage containers

Plastic beverage containers are one of the most common single-use plastic packaged products. These are manufactured onshore or imported as packaged goods. Two groups have estimated the production…

A 97% recycling rate through a container deposit scheme

Container deposit schemes (CDS) exist in various places around the world in different forms. The highest reported rate of container recycling through such a scheme is 97%.[1] Alongside its excepti…

A model to sort a whole country’s plastic waste

The evidence that only 9% of plastic produced to date has been recycled highlights that we cannot rely solely on existing recycling practice to fix our plastic problem. Most countries have some exi…

At a glance summary

Two-page summary of the findings 

Key messages

40-page summary of the key messages 

Full report

The long and detailed full report


All infographics developed for this report

Panel members

We gratefully acknowledge the efforts and good humour of our hard-working panel.

Panel members photo

Figure 2 The Rethinking Plastics Panel members and OPMCSA staff at the first panel meeting. From left to right: George Slim, Sarah McLaren, Bethanna Jackson, Olga Pantos, James Wright, Elspeth MacRae, Juliet Gerrard, Abbie Reynolds, Niki Harré, Mark Staiger, Diane Ruwhiu, Stephen Harris, Rachel Chiaroni-Clarke. Bottom right overlay: Melanie Mark-Shadbolt.

Our reference group

We thank the very large number of researchers and stakeholders who have generously contributed time, energy and suggestions to this project through consultation and peer review. We have incorporated as many suggestions as possible, but acknowledge that the wide range of views expressed meant not every edit could be accepted. We are particularly grateful to those in the industry who have shared their ideas and insights and answered our many questions.

  • Adele Rose, 3R
  • Alexia Sandano, Air New Zealand
  • Ally Hopwood, Pharmapac
  • Andrea Soanes and Cathy Buntting, Science Learning Hub
  • Anna Curnow, Kaipara District Council
  • Amanda Moxey, Plastic Free Raglan
  • Ariadne Santos and Stewart Hay, Palmerston North City Council
  • Barbara Nebel, thinkstep
  • Beth Davie and team, Ministry for Primary Industries
  • Brian Vass and Simon Andrew, Agcarm/Agrecovery
  • Bruce Middleton, Waste Not Consulting
  • Camden Howitt, Sustainable Coastlines
  • Carolyn Cox, Green Business HQ
  • Casimir MacGregor and Karla Falloon, BRANZ
  • Catherine Langabeer and Kiri Hannifin, Countdown
  • Clarke Truscott and Karen Thompson, Coca-Cola Amatil and Coca-Cola Oceania
  • Daniel Wai-Poi and Rosemary Paterson, Ministry for Foreign Affairs and Trade
  • David Benattar, The Warehouse Group
  • David Howie, Ian Kennedy and Tom Nickels, Waste Management
  • Dawn Baggaley and Sam Bridgman, NZ Post
  • Dennise Chapman, Ken Sowman and Rachel Barker, Plastics NZ
  • Donna Peterson, WasteNet Southland
  • Duncan McGillivray, University of Auckland
  • Duncan Wilson, Eunomia Consulting
  • Ella van Gool, University of Waikato
  • Emily Taylor-Hall, Wellington City Council
  • Emily Thomas and Trish Kirkland-Smith, Fonterra
  • Florian Graichen and team, Scion
  • Francine Harland and Roger Ridley, Royal Society Te Apārangi
  • Heather Saunderson, Keep New Zealand Beautiful
  • Heidi Mardon, Toimata Foundation
  • Huia Iti and Jemma Whiten, Ecostore
  • Ian Lancaster, Maritime New Zealand
  • Isla Hepburn and Samantha Webb, Environment Canterbury
  • Jacqui Forbes, Para Kore
  • James Griffin and Rachel Brown, Sustainable Business Network
  • James Muir, Crunch & Flourish
  • Janine Brinsdon, Jenny Marshall and Paul Evans, WasteMINZ
  • Johan Verbeek, University of Auckland Plastics Centre of Excellence
  • Kate Fulton, Nelson City Council
  • Katherine Short, Terra Moana
  • Kirsten Edgar, Callaghan Innovation
  • Laurence Greenfield, University of Canterbury
  • Liz Butcher and team, Ministry for the Environment
  • Louise Nash, Circularity
  • Lyn Mayes, The Packaging Forum
  • Mike Lewis and Peter Stewart, CHEP
  • Nadine Wakim and Parul Sood, Auckland Council
  • Nic Bishop, Fisher & Paykel Healthcare
  • Nick Baker, Visy
  • Peter Stevens, GS1 New Zealand
  • Rachel Depree, Zespri International
  • Raquelle de Vine, Algalita South Pacific Trust
  • Rick Poynter, Poynter Agencies Ltd
  • Ryan Everton, Globelet
  • Sally Gaw, University of Canterbury
  • Samisoni Makaafi and team, Statistics NZ
  • Sharon Humphreys, Packaging Council of NZ
  • Simon Thrush, University of Auckland
  • Tania Tapsell, Rotorua Lakes District Council
  • Terri-Ann Berry, Unitec
  • Tina Ngata, Te Wānanga o Aotearoa
  • Trisia Farrelly, Massey University


Abbreviation Definition
6Rs Rethink, refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle and recover
AANZFTA ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand free trade agreement
APCO Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation
APEC Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation
APR Association of Plastic Recyclers
ARL Australasian Recycling Label
ASEAN Association of Southeast Asian Nations
ASTM American Society for Testing and Materials
Bio- Biological
BOP Bay of Plenty
BPA Bisphenol-A
BRANZ Building Research Association of New Zealand
CCAMLR Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources
CDS Container Deposit Scheme (also referred to as Container Return Scheme)
CIEL Center for International Environmental Law
CPTPP Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership
DCC Dunedin City Council
DEFRA Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (UK)
DoC Department of Conservation
EAS East Asia Summit
ECHA European Chemical Agency
EDCs Endocrine disrupting chemicals
EEZ Exclusive Economic Zone
EMF Ellen MacArthur Foundation
EPA Environmental Protection Agency
EPS Expanded polystyrene
ESR Institute of Environmental Science and Research
EU European Union
E-waste Electrical waste
F.O.R.C.E. For Our Real Clean Environment
FADs Fish aggregating devices
FAO Food and Agriculture Organisation
FMCG Fast moving consumer goods
FTA Free trade agreement
GDP Gross domestic product
GDSN Global data synchronisation network
GESAMP Group of Experts on the Scientific Aspects of Marine Environmental Protection
GLAD Global LCA Data Access network
H&S Health and safety
HDPE High-density polyethylene
ID Identification
IOC Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission
IoT Internet of Things
ISO International Organization for Standardization
KDC Kaipara District Council
KNZB Keep New Zealand Beautiful
LCA Life cycle assessment
LDPE Low-density polyethylene
LGNZ Local Government New Zealand
MARPOL International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships
MBIE Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment
MFAT Ministry for Foreign Affairs and Trade
MPI Ministry for Primary Industries
MRF Materials Recovery Facility
NCEA National Certificate of Educational Achievement
NEMO New End Market Opportunities
NFP Not-for-profit organisation
NGO Non-governmental organisation
NOAA National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (US)
NPEGC New Plastics Economy Global Commitment
NRRT National Resource Recovery Taskforce
NSF National Science Foundation (US)
NSW New South Wales
NWDF National Waste Data Framework
NZ Aotearoa New Zealand
NZD New Zealand Dollar
OECD Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development
OPMCSA Office of the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor
OPRL On-Pack Recycling Label (UK)
OWLS Online waste levy system
PACER Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations
PCE Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment
PCR Post-consumer recycled
PET Polyethylene terephthalate
PGF Provincial Growth Fund
PHA Polyhydroxyalkanoates
PHB Polyhydroxybutyrate
PLA Polylactic acid
POPs Persistent organic pollutants
PP Polypropylene
PREP Packaging Recyclability Valuation Portal
PS Polystyrene
PSS Product stewardship schemes
PU Polyurethane
PURE Plastic Use Resistance Education
PVC Polyvinyl chloride
R&D Research and development
R&I Research and innovation
REBRI Resource Efficiency in the Building and Related Industries
RECET Resource Efficiency and Circular Economy Transition
RFP Request for proposal
rPET Recycled polyethylene terephthalate
SAPEA Science Advice for Policy by European Academies
SBN Sustainable Business Network
SDGs Sustainable Development Goals
SMEs Small to medium enterprises
SPREP Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environmental Programme
SPRFMO South Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Organisation
SWAP Solid Waste Analysis Protocol
UK United Kingdom
UN United Nations
UNEA United Nations Environment Assembly
UNEP United Nations Environment Programme
US United States (of America)
WCPFC Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission
WINZ Work and Income New Zealand
WMA Waste Minimisation Act (2008)
WMF Waste Minimisation Fund
WMMP Waste Management and Minimisation Plan
WRAP Waste and Resources Action Programme
WTO World Trade Organization


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