SocietyJuly 11, 2019

Five things to ban next for a greener New Zealand


From last Monday, single-use plastic bags are banned in New Zealand. To keep the ball rolling, here are five more things we could look at banning.

The hotly-debated plastic bag ban came into effect last Monday, aligning New Zealand with the likes of the EU, the UK, Peru, and other nations with bans on single-use plastics. Despite what certain grumblers have to say about the ban, it’s a small but necessary step into tackling the plastic crisis and fighting climate change (which is real, by the way). While we wait for the positive effects to kick in, here’s a couple of things to ban next, for your consideration.

A net full of plastic bottles – Pixabay

Plastic Bottles

Around a million plastic bottles are bought every minute and though most of them are recyclable, only a very small handful of them are actually recycled. Adding to the issue are the plastic cap and ring found on many bottles. Bottle caps are usually among the top 5 items found during beach cleanups and ocean litter monitoring, and may be mistaken for food and ingested by marine and aquatic life. Likewise, the plastic ring can end up wrapped around some animal’s neck, which doesn’t seem that fun.

What do we replace them with?

Using a reusable drink bottle can save up to 1,460 plastic bottles a year per person. Based on that and the current population of New Zealand, banning the bottle could hypothetically save nearly 7 billion bottles by ourselves – and that’s just drink bottles. Some even have built-in filters, and water fountains can be found in a whole bunch of places. It can work out to be heaps cheaper in the long run as well. Side PSA: Take a hot minute before you toss your bottle and cut the plastic ring open first. It prevents animals from being ensnared in them, and it only takes you a couple of seconds to become saviour of the animals.

Plastic toothbrushes waiting to be tossed – PIxabay

Plastic toothbrushes

Toothbrushes have kept us smiling since way back, and it’s probably not recommended you stop tomorrow. That said, toothbrushes are a pretty big slice of the plastic waste pie, and if you’re replacing your brush trimonthly as dentists recommend, that’s four toothbrushes a year per person. Do the math, times the population of NZ by four and you’ll find that a pile of about 20 million discarded toothbrushes starts to build up. Not so shiny.

What do we replace them with?

Chances are you’ve seen or heard about one of the many plastic-free alternatives to save your teeth and the planet. Bamboo, recycled plastic, and corn-starch toothbrushes are some good alternatives to the classic plastic option. Surprise! Some bamboo toothbrushes still contain plastic or vinyl in the bristles, which eco-brush companies recommend cutting off and recycling where possible. Since about 90% of plastic has never been recycled, the best option is to try find a brush that is 100% biodegradable or compostable.

Some biodegradables are anything but – Pixabay

‘Biodegradable’ packaging

Many plastics are labelled as biodegradable, but only some do what they’re meant to. Many ‘biodegradable’ plastics simply break down into microplastics faster while in the sun or sea, while others only actually break down in specific conditions which may never be encountered in the wild. Under the single-use plastic bag ban, bags designed to be degradable, biodegradable or oxo-degradable are banned (for the same reasons outlined above), but we could still go one step further and stop these bio-imposters from being used across the board.

What do we replace them with?

Biodegradable-biodegradables! Defining true biodegradability through fixing into law the conditions under which the plastic breaks down (as with the current plastic bag ban) could help separate the good from the not so good. We also need to compare the impact of producing biodegradables versus producing other plastics, including the properties of each material and their footprint from production to being tossed. After all, there’s a reason we’re so hooked on plastic. It’s lightweight, durable, waterproof and cheap. Simply put, if our biodegradables aren’t an improvement they’re likely to be an issue.

A mountain of plastic cups – Pixabay

Single-use coffee cups

Kiwis use about 295 million ‘hot & cold cups’ (which includes your classic disposable coffee cup) a year, which is enough coffee to make a hungover uni student leap out of bed. As the lining on the inside is usually made from plastic, the coffee cups are an absolute menace on our recycling systems – because you can’t recycle them. As with the biodegradable situation, a lot of ‘compostable’ coffee cups need to be commercially processed in order to break down effectively. WasteMINZ lists only 9 commercial facilities currently processing compostables across New Zealand, each with their own different acceptance criteria. Splitting one year’s worth of cups between these facilities would give each nearly 33 million coffee cups to compost. Given the average composting time is about 216 days, the facilities simply would not be able to cope with the load.

What do we replace them with?

Odds are you or someone you know already stands in line at the café happily holding their reusable cup, content in the knowledge that they’ve just done the world a little favour by choosing to bring their own vessel. But did you know a lot of coffee spots across NZ also give discounts for reusable cups!? Not only does it make your caffeine cheaper, there’s just about no excuse to swap out the plastic for something greener: Metal cups, silicone cups, compactable cups, big cups, glass cups – you name it, there’s probably a cup made from it. You can even borrow or bring a mug or jar from home.

A bucketload of straws – Pixabay

Plastic straws

Plot twist! Plastic straws shouldn’t be banned just yet. According to the calculations of a 9-year-old, Americans use about 500 million straws a day. Being lightweight and straw-y, they’re easily blown away in transit, particularly when exported across the sea. This can contribute to ocean gyres such as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, one of five growing, swirling clusters of rubbish in the northern Pacific Ocean. But the real figure of straw usage might not quite be at 500 million, and by some estimates a straw ban only makes a 0.03% reduction on ocean plastics.

What do we replace them with?

A few nations have already had a crack at banning straws, and alternatives like silicone and reusable plastics could be a viable solution for some, but nothing is ever ‘one-size-fits-all’. A large number of people with disabilities rely on plastic straws for a number of reasons, and often can’t make the switch to some alternatives like biodegradable or paper straws due to their limitations such as flexibility, heat-resistance, and durability. Until a few more viable options are available, maybe we could just ban confetti instead?

The options have been laid out and now it’s time to choose, New Zealand. The next steps we take as a nation towards fighting the plastic problem are for your consideration.

Mad Chapman, Editor
Aotearoa continues to adapt to a new reality and The Spinoff is right there, sorting fact from fiction to bring you the latest updates and biggest stories. Help us continue this coverage, and so much more, by supporting The Spinoff Members.Madeleine Chapman, EditorJoin Members

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