Petition calling for clear, compulsory recycling labels on packaging garners 46k signatures

Anna Whyte
Source: 1News

An idea to require that all food and drink packaging is clearly labelled with information about how easy it is to recycle in New Zealand - and whether it has been made from recycled material - has pulled support from almost 50,000 people.  

Filmmaker Niamh Peren brought her petition to Parliament this week, where she was met by Green Party's Eugenie Sage, NZ First's Jenny Marcroft, National's Hamish Walker and Labour's Kris Faafoi and Duncan Webb. 

"Over 46,000 Kiwis have signed it, which is pretty huge," Ms Peren told 1 NEWS. "The idea is to introduce new, simple and compulsory labelling on all food and drink packaging indicating whether or not they are made of recycled material and can actually be recycled in New Zealand."

Currently, only plastics 1 and 2 are able to be recycled onshore through councils, with soft plastic recycling available in only a few shops in Wellington, Auckland and Hamilton. 

Most plastic packaging has a small triangle symbol with the plastic number on the bottom. Occasionally, plastics 1 (PET) has the symbol 'rPET', meaning it is made of recycled materials. 

Ms Peren said the recycling triangle is "incredibly misleading".

"It just means somewhere, some place in the world it can be recycled," she said. "That's flawed and it's wrong."

Ms Peren said with 46,000 signatures and over half of councils supportive of the idea, 'Thumbs Up New Zealand' could be put to action "to fix our broken waste system". 

Two green 'thumbs up' would mean the packaging was recyclable in New Zealand and made from recyclable materials, one horizontal yellow thumb would mean it was recyclable in New Zealand but not made from recycled product and two red 'thumbs down' would indicate it wasn't recyclable in New Zealand.

She had the idea when she found out the large number of waste strategies implemented by councils around New Zealand.

"There’s no way you can cater to 53 different councils when there's no single approach," she said. "So I started talking to waste companies about why we recycle so little."

They told her it was due to contamination and a lack of incentives for companies to buy recycled materials. 

Ms Peren thought of the green thumb to incentivise a circular economy.

"Waste doesn't discriminate," Ms Peren said. "For some reason no one is spending time thinking about the foreseeable future. The longer Government draws out an answer, the more waste we have.

"We already know the landfills are overflowing. We need to be actioning change now."

She says the green thumb initiative needed to be implemented with a unified nationwide waste-recycling framework - "A master-plan that can change as products develop".

"Over half of our mayors have pledged their support of Thumbs Up New Zealand. It proves that together we can actually make the positive change - and in the very near future, too. We're ready for it."

Associate Environment Minister Eugenie Sage accepted the petition, telling Ms Peren there was work to do looking into labelling and to phase out some of the difficult to recycle plastics (3,4,6,7). 

"Now is the time to recognise the public says we need to do more on waste. This Government is committed to doing more and there is a big programme of work underway to do that - to reduce waste to landfill, and to make it easier for consumers to do the right thing.

Ms Peren replied: "Now we can do it very soon, not in 2022." 

But Ms Sage urged patience.

"It does take time in our democracy," she said. 

Ms Sage pointed to the Australian labelling model - a voluntary scheme that aims to increase recycling. 

"There's some problems with the Australian model," Ms Peren said. "It's voluntary, meaning companies have to buy into it. It also doesn't reflect a unified nationwide waste strategy."