A Step Closer to a Circular Economy for Aotearoa

New Zealand needs to change its relationship with plastic. While it’s a fantastic material, that fulfils many important functions, we need to make sure we’re using it responsibly. Plastics NZ has secured just over $1 million in government funding to help companies do just that.

Rachel Barker, CEO, is excited about the new initiative and the very real environmental benefits it will realise. The new Circular Economy Programme will drive change by providing training and advice specific to the New Zealand context. Plastics NZ will also work closely with other stakeholders to find national recycling solutions for several plastic waste streams.

The $1.7 million, three-year project is being supported by $1,084,840 from the Ministry for the Environment’s Waste Minimisation Fund. The funding was approved by Eugenie Sage, Associate Minister for the Environment under the previous Government. Plastics NZ is grateful to Minister Sage and the team at the Ministry, for backing this project and enabling a series of initiatives that will produce real progress towards a circular economy for plastics in Aotearoa.

Many companies have the goal of ensuring their packaging is either reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025. A lot of them aren’t quite sure how to get there, however. The desire to be more sustainable doesn’t mean the pathway is clear. Plastics NZ will provide practical assistance that helps companies take very real steps towards achieving their 2025 goals, while also avoiding unintended environmental harm.

“Plastics gets a very bad rap because of end-of-life mismanagement,” commented Barker.

“It’s important to remember it also has environmental benefits. When looking at whole-of-life impacts plastic out-performs most packaging in terms of shelf life, carbon emissions and water use. We need to make sure that social-media-science doesn’t lead us down a path to save the turtles, only to find we’ve killed all the penguins and polar-bears through increased carbon emissions. We need to protect all aspects of our environment.”

The Circular Economy Programme will also allow Plastics NZ to pull together key parties across the New Zealand system to find national recycling solutions for different plastic waste streams. Ms Barker says this collaborative work will identify the barriers and gaps within the system and identify actions that can be taken to resolve the issues. This work is likely to help guide investment decisions for companies, Councils and even Government.

“Plastics is such a versatile material that it is used in almost every sector of our economy. To create real change, deal with our waste onshore, and to achieve a circular economy for plastics in New Zealand, we need all parties across the system to work together,” Barker concluded.

“We look forward to leading New Zealand towards a better future for plastics.”

Advancing the New Plastics Economy in Aotearoa – Summary of Project:

Plastics NZ will be running a solution-focused programme aimed at advancing a circular economy for plastics in New Zealand. This programme will create measurable change by working in a practical way with the stakeholders forming the NZ plastics economy. This includes brand-owners, those specifying plastics in their products or packaging, plastics suppliers and manufacturers, retailers and the resource recovery sector. The following initiatives are included:

Circular Plastics Training

Industry training course on circular plastics design. The target audience for the programme is brand-owners, food & packaging technologists, councils, consultants, and others specifying plastics into products and packaging. This will cover the responsible use of plastics, alternatives and recycling from a whole-of-life environmental perspective and include practical advice on circular design and incorporation on recycled content within the New Zealand Context. An Online Design Guide will also be created to sit alongside this training.

Design Advisory Service

An independent, professional Design Advisory Service will help companies move forward on more sustainable product options. This service would involve matching the client company with experienced consultants in design, environmental and/or technical plastics expertise, on a co-funded basis. In Phase 1 the consultants will work with companies to examine the potential for circularity within a business and its product offerings. In Phase 2 an action plan is created which develops the best opportunities identified in Phase 1 and creates an in-depth plan of action and strategies for implementation.

Facilitation of Onshore NZ Plastics Recycling Solutions

Coordination of focused working groups seeking real onshore recycling solutions for specific polymers or products currently going offshore or to landfill. Groups pull together stakeholders across brands, manufacturers, councils, recyclers, Material Recovery Facilities and others linked to the Industry. The ultimate goal for each specific type of polymer or product is the creation of large-scale national recycling solutions. Selection of target polymer/plastic product will be based on the level of impact and in conjunction with the Ministry for the Environment.