Rethinking plastics in Aotearoa New Zealand

Our 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.



Rethink plastics at your desired level: ‘At a glance’ is a two-page summary, ‘Key messages’ has 40 pages of need-to-know info, and the full report is a detailed tome to fully satisfy your curiosity. We’ve also collated all infographics developed for the report into one handy powerpoint.

Happy reading!

Rethinking plastics report – web version

Explore the content of our ‘Rethinking plastics’ report via the buttons below.

Motivation for rethinking plastics

Changing our relationship with plastics

Ideas for a more sustainable future – embracing innovation

Plastics and the environment

Quantifying Aotearoa's plastic – New Zealand's data challenge

Abbreviations and appendices

Reducing the carbon footprint of plastics by using recycled plastic

Can recycling contribute to reducing the carbon footprint of plastic?

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

Not all plastic fibres are captured by Statistics NZ import data. We estimated the weight of synthetic textiles imported into Aotearoa New Zealand as finished products.

A reusable system to replace single-use cups

Reusable cups at festivals in Aotearoa New Zealand can save thousands of plastic cups from going to landfill.

Sustainability through connection, learning and action

With a kaupapa of creating a healthy, peaceful, more sustainable world, Toimata Foundation supports inter-generational learning and action by running Te Aho Tū Roa and Enviroschools.

Empowering brands to make informed packaging decisions

The Sustainable Business Network (SBN), in partnership with the Ministry for Primary Industries, Foodstuffs NZ and New Zealand King Salmon, has run a three-part plastics packaging masterclass series to help empower brands to make informed decisions around their packaging choices.

Operation Clean Sweep

Plastic pellets, or nurdles, are the raw material of the plastics manufacturing industry. They are commonly found in beach and river clean ups. The plastic manufacturing industry in Aotearoa New Zealand identified this as a key issue for their members to address.

What’s stopping the uptake of new materials?

An outline of critical success factors to drive local development and uptake of sustainable new materials as part of a circular economy.

Recyclable shoes

As part of its recent pledge to use only recycled plastics by 2024, Adidas revealed a new sneaker made from 100% recyclable materials.

Controlled plastic decomposition

​A long-term solution to the decomposition of non-biodegradable plastic might be found by building on exciting new science aimed at engineering enzymes, or selecting microorganisms, that can digest traditionally non-biodegradable plastic in environmentally friendly conditions.

Plastic Bag Free Raglan, Pēke Kirihou Kore Whāingaroa

In Raglan, a whole community worked together to engage in significant behaviour change around one troublesome item of waste – single-use plastic carry bags.

Released on: 8 Dec 2019
Last edited: 21 April 2023