Government expanding single use plastics ban

Polystyrene, the soft white material surrounding our larger electronics when we get them from the retailer is something we have a love/hate affair with. Great for protecting sensitive goods from knocks, light weight and widely used. But at the same time a waste management nightmare, which breaks up easily that is causing massive environmental grief.

I support the banning of polystyrene. Anyone who has torn apart a piece of it will know how a mass of bound little soft white balls can shred into thousands of them instantly. Weightless, non-biodegradable for hundreds of years in the natural environment and in New Zealand alone each year many thousands of kilogrammes of polystyrene is manufactured and subsequently sent to land fills or discarded. It can be found all over the place – streams, on beaches, roads, and elsewhere, transported by the wind from loosely sealed bins or skips.

Now polystyrene food containers are among the targets in the next wave of single use plastics set to be banned by the Government. They join a host of others including

Although this is not as yet targeting the polystyrene that is used to transport electronics such as desktops, television screens, printers and so forth, it is a good start.

I also support the other initiatives being announced by the Government, which include:

  • A National Plastics Action Plan
  • Improving national plastics data collection
  • Measures to mitigate environmental and health effects of plastic
  • Innovation of products using plastic waste

Back in December 2017 China announced it was going to stop accepting other nations rubbish from 01 January 2018. Whilst some were concerned that it would be taken negatively, I was pleased because I want nations to take responsibility for their own rubbish, including New Zealand. Why should China take our rubbish when 1.5 billion people create unknown tonnage of it each day, leaving authorities with a waste problem – never mind the associated environmental problems – that I doubt most people in the west could honestly comprehend?

But with it came challenges – and opportunities – which I now attempt to discuss.

New Zealand is one of the biggest consumers per head of population in the world of resources. And although responsibly it seeks to improve the state of our waste control, it is noted by tourists and locals alike that not nearly enough is being done.  The challenges come in part from needing to dial back what we create, which will mean necessary changes in consumption patterns. It will mean a more regulated consumer environment. Changing the consumption habits of a life time can be challenging, but New Zealand will have to try if it is to seriously reduce the waste out put being created. It will also create questions about what to do with existing waste, especially since a storm on the West Coast in March showed how easily an old refuse tip can be destroyed by a flooding river, and the consequences of old rubbish in the environment.

But there are opportunities – some controversial and others quite logical. They include the potential for waste to energy plants, which I personally like the idea of if the problem of fly ash can be successfully dealt with. One proposal already attempted was for a W.t.E. plant on the West Coast which would generate enough power to make the province self sufficient. But these have generated controversy, not least because they do not actually encourage less waste creation – though it was pointed out to me that existing waste could be removed from landfills and carted away to these stations and when empty the landfill is rehabilitated.

Perhaps more logically plastic bottles could be swapped out for glass bottles as we used to have for milk and fizzy drinks. How easily this could be reinstated would depend on how companies like Fonterra and Coca Cola react – would they come on board? Or would in the case of Coca Cola, they look to aluminium as an alternative to plastic? Which creates its own opportunities and issues.

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