A flurry of activity in recent weeks – some of it public, some not – shows the Government is finally getting around to tidying up New Zealand’s confusing recycling and waste system. But it will need to make sure it treads carefully if it is to take the public with it.

The public announcement, contained in the Government’s Transforming Recycling document, was something the sector has been pushing for since before the Food & Grocery Council established its Sustainability Committee to tackle issues across plastic, fibre, and metal packaging, compostable plastic products, a container return scheme, and a common recycling label.

The proposals touch on three areas:

A container return scheme: This would incentivise people to return beverage containers for recycling or refilling in exchange for a refundable deposit. They’re proposing 20c (but 10c is more realistic) would be built into the price of the drink, and when the container is returned to a collection point, it’s refunded. They’re predicting recycling rates of 85–90%.

Improved kerbside recycling: This proposes improvements to the household kerbside recycling system so the same materials are recycled by all councils, including having a food scraps bin, and possibly garden waste.

Separation of business food waste: Businesses would be required to separate food waste from other waste. The Government wants all businesses and households to be separating food scraps from their rubbish by 2030.

FGC is forming its submission on all these. We’ve consulted members, and our Sustainability Committee recently briefed them on the detail of the proposals and the likely result should they be implemented.

While there’s much to support about the proposals, there are some we believe need improvement, and we’ll be sharing those views.

Thanks to the hard work of our committee, these issues are not new to our members, many of whom have for some time been deeply involved in making their packaging more sustainable by using recycled, recyclable or compostable plastics and fibre, or ensuring it comes from sustainable sources. Many have impressive plans to stop using non-sustainable materials before the end of this decade, some by 2025. These range from small producers to the big multi-nationals, and they all have a story to tell.

A recent one is Sanitarium, which plans to make all product packaging reusable, recyclable, or compostable by 2025. Recent changes include Marmite jars being made from 100% recycled plastic (rPET) that can be recycled again and again, while the amount of high-density plastic used in recyclable Marmite lids has been reduced. These changes alone will reduce the amount of virgin plastic they use by more than 40 tonnes a year, while there’s potential to divert 60 tonnes of soft plastic from landfill each year by recycling Weet-Bix pack liners.

The not-so-public activity was the Ministry for the Environment quietly working on a plan to phase out all wet wipes by 2025. It will likely be a step too far for some consumers, particularly parents.

It’s hard to imagine that in these modern times, when people are a lot more health and hygiene conscious, phasing out baby wipes will be welcomed. Are today’s busy working mums and dads really ready to return to the 1970s when buckets filled with soaking used nappy cloths littered laundries up and down the country? And that’s not to mention the myriad other household wet wipes that make our lives easier.

FGC discovered this work by chance, and it seems to have morphed from a Cabinet instruction about other single-use plastics. For reasons known only to themselves, MfE officials chose not to seek advice from FGC, which has the data for and the scientific knowledge around these items.

Let’s hope sensible outcomes are achieved. No one would argue binning wipes containing plastic would be a good thing for the environment, but let’s not throw out common sense as well.

(originally published in FMCG Business magazine)