Phasing out hard-to-recycle and single-use plastics

The Government is to phase out certain hard-to-recycle plastics and six single-use items. 

To be phased out by late-2022

  • Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) meat trays
  • Polystyrene (PS) takeaway food and beverage packaging
  • Expanded polystyrene (EPS) food and beverage packaging
  • Degradable plastic products (eg, oxo and photo degradable)
  • Plastic drink stirrers
  • Plastic stemmed cotton buds

To be phased out by mid-2023

  • Plastic produce bags
  • Plastic plates, bowls and cutlery
  • Plastic straws*
  • Plastic produce labels

To be phased out by mid-2025

  • All other PVC food and beverage packaging
  • All other PS food and beverage packaging

*It is important that disabled people continue to have fair access to plastic straws without discrimination. We will work with the disabled community to ensure this.

mfe plastic phaseout iInfographic
Illustration showing plastic items and materials being phased out.

Why we are phasing out these plastics

Plastic is one of our greatest environmental challenges. It regularly ends up as waste in our landfills, our moana and whenua. Difficult to recycle packaging and products can interfere with our recycling systems and are often used only once before being disposed. 

Shifting away from hard-to-recycle and single-use plastics will help reduce plastic waste, improve our recycling systems and protect our environment. This shift is also part of a wider ambition to move Aotearoa New Zealand towards a low-emissions, low-waste economy.

Phase-out decisions follow public consultation

The Government consulted publicly on its phase-out proposals in 2020. This was part of a broader response to the Rethinking Plastics in Aotearoa New Zealand report released by the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor in 2019.

We received close to 8,000 submissions during the consultation. Most were in support of the proposals. There was a good level of response from the general public, affected businesses, environmental and community groups, and local government agencies.

Read a summary of the proposals we consulted on 

Read Rethinking plastics in Aotearoa New Zealand

The summary of submissions and individual submissions will be published soon.

About the timing of the phase-outs

Items that are easier to replace are to be phased out sooner than those that are more challenging to replace. This approach is to strike a balance between the public feedback for fast action and providing businesses with adequate time to prepare.

Providing information now on the dates for the phase-outs allows time for businesses and the public to adjust (eg, use up old stock, make changes to product lines and find suitable alternatives).

Alternatives to items being phased out

Practical alternatives are readily available for the items and plastic types proposed for phase-out. Many businesses and individuals have already made changes. Alternatives may include reusable items (eg, metal spoons or reusable containers), non-plastic alternatives or easier to recycle plastics (such as types 1, 2 and 5).

We will work with the industry and business sectors to provide further guidance before implementation of the phase-outs.

Compostable and bio-based plastic alternatives

Bio-based and compostable plastics have emerged as alternatives to some traditional plastics. Compostable alternatives often require processing in a commercial composting facility to break down. These are not available everywhere in Aotearoa New Zealand. In general, bio-based plastics behave in a similar way to conventional plastics and will not degrade in the same way as their original source material. If these plastics become litter they can harm wildlife in the same way as conventional fossil fuel plastic products.

The phase-out of drink stirrers, plastic-stemmed cotton-buds, plastic produce bags, plastic plates, bowls and cutlery and plastic straws extends to all types of plastic including compostable and bio-based plastics.

We encourage businesses who are looking for alternatives to the hard-to-recycle plastics, which are subject to the phase-outs, to consider reusable or recyclable alternatives in the first instance.

Why we are phasing out degradable plastics

We are phasing out all oxo and photo-degradable plastics because they include additives that make the plastic break down faster in the environment than traditional plastic. In reality, the plastic still degrades into smaller pieces (microplastics) though at a faster rate than conventional types of plastic. These plastics are also another source of contamination for our recycling system as they cannot be composted or recycled. The additives may also have toxic effects on the environment.

Plastics that need more work

There is more work to do before we can phase out certain types of expanded polystyrene, single-use cups (including coffee cups) and wet wipes. We will work with sector experts to develop a plan for these items and expect to have next steps in 2022.

Expanded polystyrene

We heard through the consultation process that phasing out expanded polystyrene will be challenging where it is used to transport cold items like seafood or protect large homeware items across long supply chains. We will work with sector experts to identify possible solutions and areas where alternatives could be used.

Single-use cups

We heard through the consultation that it was not clear what types of cups would be included in a phase-out of single-use cups and that coffee cups should be included. We will work with sector experts to develop a plan for phasing out single-use cups in the future.

Coffee cups and wet wipes

Both plastic-lined coffee cups and wet wipes that contain plastic were not proposed for phase-out. However, given the strong public response regarding these items, we will work with sector experts to develop a plan for these items. 

Next steps

They include:

  • drafting regulations under the Waste Minimisation Act for the 2022 phase-outs
  • working with sector experts to develop a plan for expanded polystyrene, single-use cups (including coffee cups) and wet wipes, with next steps for these to be agreed in 2022.

Further information