6 Jun 2017

Plastic bags – new options to recycle and replace

From Nine To Noon, 9:31 am on 6 June 2017
Soft plastics recycling bin

Photo: Nikki Heath / Wanaka Sun

Have you seen a black bin like this at your local supermarket and wondered what it's about?

It's one of around 300 around the country that are the work of the Soft Plastic Recyling programme.

Packaging such as bread bags, chip packets, confectionery wrappers and sanitary hygiene wrappers contribute significantly to the 1.6 billion plastic bags New Zealanders use each year, says project managers Lyn Mayes.

As local government pushes for a levy on single-use plastic bags, potentially has much as 30 cents per bag, Soft Plastic Recycling and Boomerang Bags are already taking on the plastics problem one supermarket visit at a time.

Last year, the Soft Plastic Recycling Project collected 100 tonnes of packaging from 200 bins set up in Countdowns, Pak'n'Saves, New Worlds and Warehouses. 

They now have 300 bins in stores in Auckland, Waikato, Wellington and Canterbury and Queenstown with Dunedin joining next week.

When the programme started, the average store collected 1 x 240-litre bin liner worth of plastic and now it's six litres, says Mayes.

She suggests using a plastic carrier bag to store the soft plastics you're returning.

"I put it in the cupboard and I stuff it full of the wrappings that we have from toilet rolls or biscuits or even courier packets, also the nets around your lemons or onions can go in as well."

"If it's soft plastic packaging and you can scrunch it up in a ball, you can take it back to one our bins and we'll process it."

The Soft Plastic Recycling Project has two three-year goals they expect to fulfil by 2018: to obtain full funding by industry (currently, contributions from brand owners and supermarkets match the grant they get from the government's Waste Minimisation Fund) and to provide 70% of New Zealanders with a soft plastic waste drop-off facility within 20km of their home.

"We're already at around 61 percent," says Mayes.

For recycling the plastics, the project partnered with a Melbourne company called Replas – the only plastics collector that can take the whole range of plastic they collect.

Relas converts it into benches, bollards, decking, traffic silencers for roads and bumpers, and ideally, individuals and the New Zealand government will soon start buying these products, she says.

The grassroots initiative Boomerang Bags is taking a hands-on approach.

Volunteers in 31 New Zealand communities are currently sewing reusable bags made with unwanted textiles that are given out free.

Tauranga Boomerang Bags

Tauranga's Boomerang Bags crew Photo: Boomerang Bags

In Wellington, up to 80 volunteers produce bags on and off, with fast sewers knocking them off in seven minutes, says Ali Kirkpatrick.

The movement – which began with two environmental science students in the Gold Coast – is underway in Canada, the UK and South America, too.

"We are hoping that by giving this option to people, they'll start thinking about their own impact on the environment. Then we can start lobbying the government for change."

Boomerang Bags Wellington is fundraising on PledgeMe.