Bans on plastic packaging would threaten food safety, sterile packaging and health regulations, according to industry group Packaging New Zealand (PNZ), whose members include global giants Visy, Orora, Unilever and Amcor Flexibles.

PNZ said it understands the reasons for the recent bans on single-use plastic bags but would be “alarmed” if this was extended to plastic packaging.

“Plastic packaging is used because it is effective, efficient and economic,” said Sharon Humphreys, executive director of PNZ.

“Any suggestion to extend plastic bans into the packaging space starts to impact areas such as food safety, sterile packaging, logistical efficiencies affecting carbon emissions, health and safety regulations, to name a few. This would be a step too far.

“Advocates of banning plastic will always find examples of potential misuse, but those charged with policy development need to offer a balanced perspective, which is mindful of society’s requirements, not simply appeasement of the vocal minority.

“Let us be clear, we too are horrified by the devastating effect on the natural environment of plastic pollution. Fewer bags in circulation will inevitably mean a reduction of bags in the natural, environment. This would be a good outcome, but it must be acknowledged that banning bags demonises the product – single-use plastic bags – but excuses the conduct of those who litter.”

According to New Zealand’s Sustainable Business Network, the ban of plastic bags in “just the tip of the iceberg”.

“The environmental impact of plastic packaging, particularly single-use plastic bags, is now well-known,” said CEO Rachel Brown.

“But what many people don’t realise is that there’s a massive economic cost involved too because of resource wastage. The cost of packaging waste sits at around $80 billion globally and is rising as the costs of clean up are added. So, the phasing out of single-use plastic bags is not only good for the environment, it’s good for the economy.

“Plastic bags are just the tip of the iceberg. That’s why we’re working with ten leading businesses to better understand New Zealand’s entire plastic packaging system. We need to radically change how we design, use and re-use plastics.”

Brooke Donnelly, CEO of the Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation (APCO) – which represents 950 member companies – said the future of plastic in the waste debate needs to be considered holistically rather than simply advocating for blanket bans.

“The conversation needs to be much broader,” Donnelly said. “It is not about whether it’s good or bad, but that it hasn’t been managed effectively at end of life. This is where we need to concentrate our efforts going forward.

“There are a number of international initiatives to improve the recyclability of soft plastics, including new design guidelines that are expected to be released later in the year.

“In addition, new technologies are driving change such as a new process for complex multilayer plastics that include chemical recycling (processing back into the basic building blocks for plastics) and these developments will continue to eliminate plastic from landfill and reduce the impact on the environment.”

In April, Australia’s federal, state and territory environment ministers committed to an APCO initiative to eliminate all packaging going to landfill by 2025.

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