By Natalie Martin, 3R Group Materials Innovation Manager

Plastic straws are one of the single-use plastic items which are part of a proposed ban in New Zealand.

The second in a series written for NZ Food Technology.

Government is tackling the issue of plastic waste with a two-pronged approach – regulated stewardship, which I outlined in my last article, and proposed phase-outs and bans.

The phase out sees a proposed end to hard-to-recycle plastics and some single-use plastic items. The aim is to enable New Zealanders to use less plastic overall and ensure the plastic which is used, can be reused, repurposed or recycled.

The phase-out would run until 2025 and affect items like PVC and polystyrene food and beverage packaging, plus oxo-degradable plastic products. It would also see seven single-use items like straws, tableware and non-compostable fruit stickers banned.

Interest in the proposal has been strong with thousands of submissions being received during consultation, which closed on 4 December 2020.

These changes are undoubtedly going to be painful for industry – there simply isn’t a way to sugar coat it. Retooling, redesign and research into alternative materials will need to be a major focus for producers in the immediate future.

The challenge is obviously very complex and ranges across a multitude of businesses and products, and there is no simple, one-size-fits-all solution.

However, the advice I can offer – and I can’t stress this enough – is to begin the journey as soon as possible. Leaving this to the last minute could present enormous risks for your business.

A crucial element to your success is the willingness to collaborate. Research conducted by multiple parties is always going to be more effective, and easier to fund.

This is also a great time to look at logistics changes, innovative product delivery and the opportunity to change to a ‘new normal’ for your business in terms of packaging. Get it right, and there is potential to be a leader and reap the benefits.

Finally, be very cautious when considering alternative materials. Oxo-degradable plastics are the perfect example of an alternative which promised much but causes so much harm it’s been included in the proposed phase-out.

There are few, if any, silver bullets, so let’s embrace the challenge and create some innovative solutions.  

Natalie Martin has a background in food technology and over 10 years’ experience in new product development for FMCG and still supports the industry as a consultant. At 3R, Natalie works in new product development for various waste streams, including packaging.