In mid-July 2015, the Government announced a new $1.2 million initiative to create a facility in New Zealand capable of recycling soft plastics. Currently, plastic shopping bags and other soft plastics are not recyclable in NZ. That means nearly all of the 1.4 billion grocery bags used annually in our country end up in a landfill or worse, in our environment. Recycling soft plastics could make a significant impact on the amount of plastic entering the waste stream. The three-year pilot program will begin in Auckland with collection points at supermarkets across the city. From there, plastic bags will be shipped to Australia to be turned into park benches and playground equipment until a recycling facility capable of handling soft plastics is up and running here.
While a new recycling initiative is commendable, it fails to take the bigger picture into account. The simple truth is that plastic production and use at our current rates is not a sustainable option. Plastics are made from oil – a non-renewable resource – and currently a third of the 300 million tons of plastic produced each year goes towards single use packaging materials. That’s 100 million tons of plastic being created each year to be used once and thrown away – taking up space in landfills and all too often ending up in the marine environment.
Our ultimate goal should be to eliminate the need to recycle soft plastics in the first place. You can start by reducing the amount of plastic you use in your everyday life. The first step is simple – get a reusable shopping bag and use it. Every time you shop.
The second step is easy too: make your voice heard. Tell your Government officials that recycling isn’t the answer, tell your grocer and other retailers that you would like to see them eliminate plastic bags, tell your favourite companies to stop using plastic packaging on their products. Alternatives exist and it is time to start to look past recycling and towards a plastic-free future.
For more information:
- Plastics, the environment and human health: current consensus and future trends
- For ideas on how to reduce the amount of plastic in your life:
Contributor: Andrea Greene Liberatore