Rethinking Plastics – Recommendations

The 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. Rethinking plastics in Aotearoa New Zealand requires a bold and ambitious approach so that all New Zealanders can embrace kaitiakitanga. We envision a future of plastic use with updated systems, new materials, products and technologies that in combination enable citizens, businesses and communities to adopt more sustainable practices. Aotearoa New Zealand’s journey to a circular economy for plastics needs to be based on short‐and medium‐term strategies, nested within a long‐term vision.

He Rangi Tā Matawhāiti He Rangi Tā Matawhānui

The person with a narrow vision sees a narrow horizon, the person with a wide vision sees a wide horizon

1) Implement a National Plastics Action Plan

Immediately – to stimulate change by 2021    
a) Building on actions outlined in this report (including recommendations 2-6) that outlines a clear vision and timeline of actions and signals expectations for the transition to a circular economy for plastics    

2) Improve Plastics Data Collection

Immediately – to stimulate change by 2021 Soon – to meet 2025 obligations Later – to achieve zero plastic waste

a) Commission projects to audit and quantify known data gaps for plastics, including use, collection, reuse, recycling, disposal and leakage in NZ to fill (align with 6a; supports 3h, 3i)

b) Support standardisation and national roll-out for citizen science litter monitoring projects, including kaupapa Māori projects (align with 6a; connects with 5b; supports 3h, 3i), ensuring:

i) Alignment with international best-practice methodologies

ii) An open data policy, in line with the government-wide approach to increase openness and transparency

c) Incentivise labelling of plastic type by manufacturers (resin ID code)

d) Mandate ongoing data collection at product level and establish an open data framework with a centralised database that includes measures for material type, weight, colour, recycled content, contamination, reuse, industry, source and end market (local or overseas), location, and average product lifetime of all plastic used in NZ (partly implementable via 4b and/or 4c; prerequisite to 2e; supports 3h, 4i; supported by 6e) e) Review data policy settings of 2d in light of technological developments and incorporate more difficult-to-acquire data in collection frameworks including, but not limited to, additives in plastic materials

3) Embed Rethinking Plastics in the Government Agenda

Immediately – to stimulate change by 2021 Soon – to meet 2025 obligations Later – to achieve zero plastic waste
a) Drive uptake of best-practice sustainable plastic use (e.g. reuse) through operational and funding levers:

i) Adapt daily operations for government agencies and state-owned enterprises (prerequisite to 3f)

ii) Make best practice a requirement of funding or approval (e.g. government-funded conferences)

b) Undertake a scoping exercise to determine the best ways to connect internationally to drive alignment around sustainable materials and consistent product stewardship for plastics e.g. using New Zealand membership of international trade agreements such as the CPTPP, PACER Plus, Trans-Tasman agreements and AANZFTA (supports 3g)

c) Adapt the Waste Minimisation Fund process to be more user-friendly and aligned to a national plastics action plan (pending 4b)

d) Increase support for teachers to access resources where plastics is used as the context for teaching science, technology, social studies, sustainability and mātauranga Māori, and to utilise them in integrated, student-centred pedagogies

e) Run national public awareness initiatives on plastic pollution, recycling and biodegradable or compostable plastics

f) Change government procurement to reflect sustainable use of plastic in all agencies and state-owned enterprises (building on 3a; prerequisite to 3k)

g) Begin implementation of plastics action in international agreements (based on findings from 3b)

h) Undertake analyses to model the economic, socioeconomic and environmental benefits of changing to more sustainable plastic use on different sectors (supported by 2a, 2b, 2d; align with 4j) e.g.:

i) Fisheries

ii) Aquaculture

iii) Construction

iv) Agriculture

v) Exports

vi) Tourism

i) Incorporate indicators of plastic use, waste management and pollution, including a Tier 1 Indicator for litter, into existing national frameworks and processes (supported by 2a and 2b):

i) Environmental Reporting Programme

ii) Indicators Aotearoa

iii) Living Standards (wellbeing) Framework

iv) Environmental-economic accounts

v) Just Transitions initiatives

j) Ensure trade policy is kept up to date with evidence-based best practice on plastic import and export; advocate for international product stewardship principles

k) Promote government-wide adoption of circular economy (building on 3f)

4) Create and Enable Consistency in Design, Use and Disposal

Immediately – to stimulate change by 2021 Soon – to meet 2025 obligations Later – to achieve zero plastic waste
a) Co-design sector-specific best-practice guidance on plastic use to signal how to align to a future NZ plastics system, accounting for impacts of the Basel Convention amendment (align with 4e, 4h, 4k)

b) Expand the waste levy to all landfill types and increase tonnage cost to discourage landfilling of recyclable waste plastic and the use of single-use plastics (align with 2d; supports 3c)

c) Mandate product stewardship for priority products that contain plastic currently under consultation (align with 2d; connects to 4e), including:

i) Packaging: include incentives to increase use of recycled plastic to strengthen markets for recycled plastic in NZ (connects with 4d)

ii) Tyres: include approaches to reduce microplastics leakage (align with 6d)

iii) Farm plastics

iv) Agrichemicals

v) E-waste

d) Implement an industry-informed fit-for-purpose container deposit scheme (CDS) (connects with 4c; supports 4f)

e) Strategically invest in or incentivise development of systems and infrastructure to deal with our own plastic waste onshore, to support the best practice outlined in 4a and new schemes developed through 4c, including but not limited to:

i) Onshore recycling of PET, HDPE, PP and possibly LDPE

ii) Segregation of industrially compostable plastics

f) Increase recycling rates and quality by:

i) Improving source separation (e.g. at kerbside; store drop-off; community recycling centres; new tech; CDS), with H&S in mind (connects with 4d)

ii) Standardising national recycling practice and ensuring equitable access

iii) Implementing the Australasian Recycling Label (ARL) to make it easy for individuals to act

g) Manage non-recyclable, non-compostable and non-biodegradable waste plastic in modern landfills (coordinate with 6f)

h) Develop and implement biodegradable and compostable plastics standards (align with 4a)

i) Facilitate access for organisations to life cycle assessment-based decision-support tools, supported by NZ-specific datasets (supported by 2d)

j) Facilitate an active dialogue around rethinking plastics by setting targets and identifying opportunities to keep plastics in circulation or shift to more sustainable alternatives with individual sectors (align with 3h; supports 4n), including:

i) Fisheries

ii) Construction

iii) Agriculture

iv) Textile and fashion retail

v) Tourism

k) Use all regulatory and non-regulatory levers necessary to implement the best-practice expectations signalled in 4a

l) Monitor for innovative ways to manage plastic waste and scale-up infrastructure to reduce reliance on, or phase out use of, landfill for plastic waste (including from 5a)

m) Develop and implement recycling standard(s) (relates to 5e)

n) Evaluate sector progress and build on learnings to support development of other sector-specific action plans (e.g. healthcare, transport) (learning from 4j)

o) Invest in equipment and technology to support the plastics manufacturing industry to manufacture bio-based plastics, including both biodegradable plastics and recyclable bio-based plastics at appropriate scale (learning from 5a)

5) Innovate and Amplify

Immediately – to stimulate change by 2021 Soon – to meet 2025 obligations Later – to achieve zero plastic waste
a) Attract research and innovation by offering a specific innovation fund to ‘reimagine plastics’ (supports 4l, 4o, 5d, 5g), focusing on the areas of:

i) Infrastructure

ii) Material science

iii) Product design

iv) Sustainability

v) International connectivity

Emphasising multidisciplinary approaches and drawing on areas such as:

i) Mātauranga Māori

ii) Engineering

iii) Social sciences

iv) Biophysical sciences

v) Economics

b) Share community initiatives and citizen science programmes and support their uptake in new contexts (connects to 2b)

c) Build on successful innovative products and business models, e.g. those championed by the Sustainable Business Network

d) Make best practice standard practice by hosting expos (or a regional roadshow) to highlight and bring together innovative ideas from around the world related to plastics, including new technology, new materials, products, business models, design thinking, community initiatives and research, to drive further innovation and inspire others (including those funded through 5a; supports 5f, 5g))

e) Ensure rigorous testing of new materials and products made from recycled plastic before application (relates to 4m)

f) Hold expo(s) every few years (pending 5d)

g) Monitor projects, ensure ‘fail-fast’ culture, and scale-up successful ones (based on 5a, 5d)

6) Mitigate Environmental and Health Impacts of Plastic

Immediately – to stimulate change by 2021 Soon – to meet 2025 obligations Later – to achieve zero plastic waste
a) Quantify environmental leakage of plastics, building on existing research (connects with 2a, 2b; supports 6e)

b) Identify knowledge gaps and develop research agenda related to hazards, impacts and remediation of plastics, aligning to international conventions and pacts and connecting with international research efforts (supports 6h), with a particular focus on:

i) Impacts on local communities, taonga species and sites of significance to mana whenua

ii) Microplastics

iiii) Environmental and food safety of recycled plastic and new materials

iv) Developing methods for monitoring nanoplastics and potential toxic effects of plastics

c) Develop and implement manufacturing and pre-production plastic pellet handling standards and regulations

d) Commission a project to evaluate effectiveness, economics, and behavioural implications of different preventative measures for stopping macro and microplastic entering the environment to determine future efforts for NZ, e.g. public bins, washing machine filters, wastewater filtering processes, stormwater drain pipes, capturing at river mouth (supports 6g)

e) Working with mana whenua, roll out nationwide microplastic monitoring for marine, terrestrial and air environments, and wastewater and landfill leachate (building on 6a; supports 2d)

f) Invest in prevention of landfill disasters, building on the national audit of at-risk landfills, to remediate issues or establish new facilities (coordinate with 4g)

g) Invest in systems to prevent macro and microplastics entering the environment, take baseline data (based on findings from 6d; supports 6l)

h) Support and regularly review local and international research into the environmental and health impacts of plastics, including those from 6b, and ensure international connectivity (supports 6j)

i) Identify areas where NZ development spending could help mitigate environmental and health impacts related to plastics, particularly for Pacific Island nations (align with 6k)

j) Support and regularly review long-term studies of environmental and health impacts of plastics (building on 6h)

k) Support remediation efforts (aligns with 6i)

l) Evaluate effectiveness of preventing environmental leakage, scale and adapt accordingly (following from 6g)

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.

Plastic resource portal

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

Case Studies

Contribution of packaging to carbon footprint of breakfast foods

Fresán and colleagues undertook ‘cradle-to-gate’ carbon footprint studies of six common breakfast foods eaten in southern California: orange juice, milk, instant coffee, breakfast cereals, bread bu…

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…

Litter Intelligence

Sustainable Coastlines developed Litter Intelligence – a citizen science-based initiative to measure litter on Aotearoa New Zealand’s coastlines and collate data in a national coastal litter databa…

Developing onshore closed-loop mechanical recycling solutions

In 2017, Flight Plastics established the first closed-loop mechanical recycling system in Aotearoa New Zealand for PET (#1), producing clear recycled PET (rPET) containers that, due to food hygiene…

Plastic Bag Free Raglan, Pēke Kirihou Kore Whāingaroa

In October 2018, Whāingaroa Raglan won the Keep New Zealand Beautiful ‘Community Environmental Initiative Award’. The kōrero behind the Award was a story of what happened when a whole community wor…

The Australasian Recycling Label

The Australasian Recycling Label (ARL) is an evidence-based standardised system that provides easy to understand disposal instructions for each part of a product’s packaging. The Australian Packagi…

A council-led school event to raise awareness around plastic waste

The Dunedin City Council arranged an event to promote the reduction of single-use plastic in students’ lunch boxes as part of Plastic Free July 2019. The aim of the project was to engage students an…

A business enabling people to rethink their use of plastic

Ecostore is an exemplar of how a business can take transformative action to rethink how we use plastics and inspire system-wide change. To enable people to reduce their use of non-renewable single-…

New Zealand Post’s quest for an alternative to plastic

The driver: New Zealand Post wants a more sustainable, environmentally friendly alternative to their existing plastic mailers (e.g. courier bags, pre-paid postage bags). New Zealand Post has also…

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

Infographics

All infographics developed for this report

Contacts

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