11 Jan 2018

Outspoken - Taking out the trash

From Outspoken, 3:00 pm on 11 January 2018

With more consumers wanting to generate less environmentally problematic waste, supermarkets are cutting down on plastic bags. 

New Zealand supermarket chains Countdown and Foodstuffs both pledged in October to phase out single-use plastic bags, but the move also raised concerns that it would make little difference.

Plastics wash ashore on the tide.

Plastics wash ashore on the tide. Photo: paktaotik2/123RF

RNZ's Teresa Cowie spoke to industry players and environmental campaigners at the forefront of these changes, and those pushing for more to be done. 

Consumer New Zealand chief executive Sue Chetwin said there has been a big change in consumer attitudes to single-use plastic bags and that was making producers more confident in being able to remove or reduce those in their production chains. 

She said the soft plastics schemes in New Zealand were on track for 30 percent reduction of soft plastic packaging within seven years. 

"So they realise I think, that there's been a sea change in consumer thinking. 

"Having said that we've got a long way to go, if you go into at any supermarket it's not just the single-use plastic bags of course, everything is packaged and it's really hard in some respects to buy things that aren't already packaged up."

Sandra Murray from the Product Stewardship Council said even the progress on soft plastics was not enough. 

"We're not going fast enough at all and one of the problems that we have in New Zealand is that a lot of the [recycling] schemes that we have in place are voluntary." 

She said not all of the producers were participating in recycling schemes, which meant it created a non-level playing field.

"What we'd like to see is proper mandatory product stewardship schemes coming in for different types of packaging, and what this would do is meant that everyone would have to participate - all of the companies - and use sufficient money to pay for that to happen. 

Communications manager Lyn Mayes for the Packaging Forum, which represents recycling programmes, said many types of packaging were chosen for a specific purpose.

"It's also important to know that the packaging is actually there for a reason ... [it] is there to protect and preserve your food and groceries so without appropriate packaging we'd actually have a lot more food going to waste." 

She also said many supermarkets were moving away from using polystyrene to recyclable plastic, and were looking at moving towards using plastic that had already been recycled. 

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