'Recycle the recycling' - A message to consumers to rethink plastic and its uses

Corazon Miller
Source: 1News

In the battle for the environment, plastic is often seen as "Enemy No.1" - but sustainability experts say it needn't be the case as they encourage a rethink on on the simplistic view that plastic is an option of last resort.

Single-use plastic, such as straws, rubbish bags, and coffee cups have given plastic a bad name. But, "plastics as a material isn't the problem, it's how we are using it," says Auckland-based sustainability consultant Nick Morrison.

"It has got some really good uses, a prime example is planes. They are much lighter now, because of plastic, than they were in the past, so there is a lot less fuel and a lot less emissions." 

In fact he says, bio-degradeable products aren't necessarily better for the environment, if it encourages people to use and dispose instead of reusing. 

"There is a feeling that compostable packaging can be seen as encouraging people to use and dispose." But he says people need to be encouraged to reuse what they have.

It is a concept some Kiwi organisations are making a mainstay of their business... turning to options that may contain plastic, but that can be reused or recycled.

New Zealand Post independently-commissioned research into its packaging options found its 80 per cent recycled plastic packaging was more sustainable than even its paper or compostable options. 

The company's head of sustainability, Dawn Baggaley, says; "it uses 2.6 times less carbon than our virgin plastic packaging," saving the company the "equivalent of 824 flights from Wellington to Auckland" per year.  

And the packaging can also be recycled again. 

"We are encouraging people who use our recycleable packaging to put them in the soft plastics recycling scheme... they can get made into things like fence posts or go into vege gardens." 

Beauty company, Emma Lewisham, has incorporated into her fledgling company an ethos of putting all her products into packaging that can either be recycled or refilled. 

"Beauty packaging is the biggest contributor to carbon emissions, so instead of producing the 100 billion units that we do every year in the beauty industry, we are arguing that we should reuse what we have already brought into the world." 

It does require buy-in from both the consumer and other companies. Emma Lewisham has found so far around 10 per cent of her consumers are making use of the refill option she provides. 

"But it is increasing," she says. 

But, a recent survey showed that across 11 common products used in nine countries, New Zealand's packaging of them was 57 per cent non recycleable - the second worst result ahead of Brazil. 

"We need a behaviour change from customers, we need people to take a bag with them shopping, to take a coffee cup to the cafe with them, we need people to take a lunch box with them to take their lunch," says Nick Morrison. 

"If we want to inhabit this planet, we need to live in the laws of the real world, so we have to shift to a circular economy and focus on how we can not send things to landfill."