Those who cringe every time they bag up an item can breathe a sigh of relief – the Government is partnering with retailers and the packaging industry to recycle them. Over $1 million will go towards reducing the waste at stores like Countdown and New World just in time for plastic-free July.
Environment Minister Dr Nick Smith says soft plastics such as shopping bags, bread bags and food wrap aren’t accepted by kerbside recycling services, as they aren’t currently recyclable in New Zealand.
“We are investing in a new drop-off recycling service at stores and new recycling infrastructure that will enable soft plastics to be re-used,” Smith says.
New Zealanders use more than 1.6 billion plastic bags in their home every year, according to project leader Lyn Mayes.
The scheme will be funded through two grants: a $700,000 grant to the Packaging Forum and a $510,000 grant to Astron Plastics Group.
Foodstuffs and Progressive Enterprises are on board with the new initiative, as the grant is going towards trialling a new recycling service at Pak’n Save, New World and Countdown. The Warehouse is also trialling the service.
Soft plastics recycling will be carried out using REDcycle, which also runs the programme in Australia.
Plastic bags can be dropped off by customers to special bins at the stores and will then be sent back to Australia, where they’re made into park benches and playground items.
The scheme will be carried out in New Zealand when Astron Plastics creates its plastic bag dry-cleaning facility.
Smith cites the Coles Group in Australia as an example of successful plastic bag recycling, as it used the REDcycle programme to stop thousands of tonnes of plastic from entering landfills.
“This is a more sensible approach than a ban or a compulsory levy on just plastic shopping bags,” Smith says.
“These bags make up only 0.2 percent of waste going to landfill, and only 10 percent of plastic waste.
“Nor can a ban or a compulsory levy be justified when plastic shopping bags only make up 1.5 per cent of the litter items in nationwide litter surveys.”
However, the Local Government New Zealand (LGNZ) said in a statement that more action is needed than just recycling.
It wants the Government to impose a levy on plastic bags at point of sale counters.
“Whilst recycling is important, the country must also focus on reduction in bag usage. Local government’s view is imposing a compulsory levy at the point of sale will act as a deterrent, reducing the total number of single use plastic bags produced,” the statement said.
Over 13,000 New Zealanders who’ve signed a petition on Change.org have also backed the call for a levy.
The petition founders called the Government initiative a win, but said people needed to keep the pressure on to phase out plastic bags completely.
Countdown said the recycling programme would be trialled at its Hamilton stores to start with.
Countdown general manager of strategy and corporate affairs Richard Manaton says he hopes to see the programme rolled out to more than 70 percent of its New Zealand stores within three years.
Foodstuffs says the initiative will start at its Auckland New World and Pak’n Save stores before expanding to other regions within the next three years.
Many other major retail brands, such as Pams, Huggies, Kleenex, New Zealand Post and SunRice, are also joining the programme