The fast-approaching deadline to phase out the use of plastic stickers on fruit has come as a surprise to the fruit-growing and packaging industry.
Environment Minister David Parker announced that a range of single-use plastic items, including hard to recycle food and drink packaging, cotton buds, straws, and fruit labels, would be phased out by 2025. The items will be phased out in three stages between late 2022 and July 2025.
Parker said the timing of the ban was intended to strike a balance between the public's call for action and the need for businesses to seek alternatives, but packaging manufacturer Jenkins Freshpac said the 2023 timeline for stickers, used to brand and otherwise identify produce, was too short.
According to general manager, Jaimie Lunam, Jenkins Freshpac had worked closely with government during the consultation process but had been blindsided by the 2023 deadline.
The company had advocated the phase-out of non-compostable fruit stickers by 2025 and had several projects underway to make the transition, which had been in place even before the consultation documents were released last year.
The announcement had come as a surprise as the Government had given assurances it would consult with the industry before any final decisions were made, HortNZ chief executive Nadine Tunley said.
"Fruit labels need to adhere to the fruit without damaging it and be able to withstand refrigeration and moisture. The horticulture industry needs time to develop new, non-plastic fruit labels. There will also be significant costs involved," she said.
Lunam said Freshpac had invested heavily in compostables and needed time to get it right. Paper stickers did not perform for the length of time export produce was in the supply chain, and did not adhere well to every surface.
Jenkins Freshpac had developed two compostable fruit sticker options after working on the problem for nearly a decade. These didn't work well on every product either and would be difficult for industry to adopt quickly, he said.
Sustainable packaging solutions needed to become more affordable for businesses so that more would make the change and to ensure financial sustainability. Lunam said while the cost of using compostable stickers was higher, it would come down as more producers got on board.