Reducing our environmental impact
Retailers, like all business owners and consumers, have a shared responsibility to reduce their environmental impact and are actively working to address sustainability issues. A particular challenge for our sector is packaging waste. Retail NZ has been working with others over many years to reduce the level of packaging waste generated and to minimise its impacts if it enters the environment.
Retailers' current efforts have been focused on reducing the impact caused by plastic bags through reducing the number of bags distributed at the point of sale and encouraging the use of reusable bags. Some retailers have also introduced charges for single-use plastic bags.
However, plastic bags have a function and consumer demand for strong, cheap and lightweight bags to take the groceries home remains high. Customers have responsibility too, they have a choice about whether they take bags and how they dispose of them when the leave the shop. Customers do reuse plastic-bags. Plastic bag bans in other countries have led to increases in bin liner sales which are often made from higher grade plastics and may constitute a worse landfill problem.
Plastic bags are a small proportion of packaging waste overall, the Packaging Council estimate they contribute just 0.2% (by weight) to the entire waste stream in New Zealand. In a recent Packaging Forum national litter survey plastic bags made up 1.5 per cent of litter items.
Soft-Plastic Packaging Recycling Scheme
According to Plastics NZ, 100% of plastic bags distributed in NZ are recyclable and two thirds of supermarket plastic bags are reused. However for most New Zealand households, soft plastics are not collected at the kerbside because they can contaminate the recycling process. Providing collection and recycling for soft plastics including plastic bags is a priority.
The Packaging Forum's soft plastic packaging recycling scheme was funded by the government and industry in July 2015 and will provide access to drop off recycling for all soft plastic bags to 70 per cent New Zealanders over the next three years. It will also fund trials of domestic soft plastic reprocessing to give soft plastics a useful second life.
All types of soft plastics will be able to be recycled, not just plastic bags. Bread bags, frozen food bags, toilet paper packaging, confectionery and biscuit wrap, chip bags, courier envelopes, sanitary hygiene packaging - anything made of plastic which can be scrunched into a ball will be accepted by the scheme.
The scheme launches on the 25 November 2015, initially in New World, PAK'nSAVE and the Warehouse in Auckland, and in Countdown stores on the North Shore.
There has been a lot of discussion recently about what can be done to reduce the number of plastic bags being issued. In a number of jurisdictions abroad, Government-mandated minimum charges have been applied which have successfully dampened consumer demand for bags.
In the New Zealand context, experience has shown that there can be significant consumer resistance to change, which means that no retail chain is really able to be the first mover on charges, ahead of any direct competitors. Under the Commerce Act, it's illegal for competitors to agree to fix prices for any product, including plastic bags; so while retailers can't collectively agree to introduce a charge. We're calling for the Government to introduce national legislation to deal with this issue.
- Read our letter to the Associate Minister for the Environment here.
For the latest information on all of our advocacy work, members can check out this month's edition of Talking Shop (subscribe by emailing email@example.com).