A revolution in product packaging as new waste minimisation regulations come into force

6 October 2022

New Zealanders will see a fundamental change to some of the product packaging they encounter in daily life from October 2022. Certain plastic, PVC and polystyrene packaging and other products are destined to become a curio of history, as, following on from the removal of single-use plastic bags in 2019, the next tranche of the phase-out of certain plastics comes into effect.

The new rules around plastic waste

On 1 October 2022, the Waste Minimisation (Plastic and Related Products) Regulations 2022 came into force. These regulations prohibit the manufacture or sale of:

  1. single-use plastic drink stirrers;
  2. plastic cotton buds (with some exceptions);
  3. any product that contains plastic with pro-degradants that accelerate fragmentation into smaller pieces;
  4. PVC food trays or containers (such as those used for meats, fresh produce or freshly baked goods); and
  5. specified polystyrene packaging for food or drink.

The Ministry for the Environment has emphasised that this policy is about reducing the harm to our environment from plastics that are difficult to recycle, plastics that degrade into micro-plastics in the environment, and single use items. The phasing out of such products is intended to assist to reduce waste, improve our recycling system, reduce confusion about what can be recycled, and make recycling easier overall.

In place of these products that are being phased out, we should expect to see the increased use of products such as:

  • recyclable plastic or paper trays or containers;
  • reusable containers that are brought by customers to food establishments;
  • compostable products;
  • wooden stirrers or spoons; and
  • non-degradable plastic or paper alternatives.
What can be done with existing products that are now banned?

There are no transitional provisions under the regulations. If a business has excess stock of a banned item, they can no longer sell or give these items to customers or any other person. These kinds of products can be used internally by businesses themselves (such as for food preparation or storage), or businesses can contact industry bodies or local recyclers to determine whether such products can be recycled.

The Ministry for the Environment has advised that it expects businesses to take the necessary steps to ensure they comply with the regulations. The Ministry has discretion as to enforcement, and can respond to non-compliance in various ways, ranging from education, verbal and written warnings, through to prosecution. While an educative approach is the Ministry’s first preference, it will take enforcement action where appropriate, particularly where there is systemic or ongoing non-compliance with the regulations. Knowingly contravening the regulations is a criminal offence, for which a person can be liable on conviction for a fine of up to NZ$100,000.

Further prohibitions still to come

Businesses should be aware that these regulations are a continuation of the government’s endeavour to tackle the issue of plastic waste, and further prohibitions on other plastic products are to come.

Products that are intended to be phased out by mid-2023 include:

  1. plastic plates, bowls and cutlery designed for single use
  2. plastic straws
  3. plastic produce bags
  4. plastic produce labels.

By mid-2025, we are likely to see the end of:

  1. all other PVC food and beverage packaging (for example, some biscuit trays and containers).
  2. all other polystyrene food and beverage packaging (for example, yoghurt pottles).

This major overhaul in the manufacture and sale of plastics will have considerable impact on a range of businesses, especially those who deal in food or product packaging. As with most change, there will be considerable opportunities for businesses who can take advantage of the new regime by way of innovation and new product development.

If you would like further information about these regulations, and future developments that are anticipated, please contact the authors or your usual Bell Gully adviser.

Disclaimer: This publication is necessarily brief and general in nature. You should seek professional advice before taking any action in relation to the matters dealt with in this publication.