Plastics and recycling – Myths and facts

28 Jul, 2020
Plastic myths and facts

This Plastic Free July, we look at some myths about plastic and recycling and what we can do to reduce and reuse.

Myth 1: Biodegradable and compostable are both environmentally friendly.

Fact: The Ministry for the Environment (MfE) states that biodegradable plastics will only fully breakdown through commercial processing. If a biodegradable plastic is left to break down in an environment – such as in landfills or the sea – it often only breaks down into micro-plastics. These micro-plastics can create ‘plastic smog’ in parts of the ocean and accumulate in soils. Whereas a compostable plastic, when composted, will break down entirely into its nutrients and natural substances (i.e, return to nature).

What you can do: Choose compostable plastics over biodegradable plastic whenever possible, but the best option is still to use reusable bags, cups and containers as much as you can.

Myth 2: It is difficult to buy food and other items that aren’t in plastic packaging

Fact: In Auckland currently, there are several bulk dry food shops selling flours, nuts, seeds, grains, pasta, dried fruit, honey, syrups, teas, coffee, herbs, spices and washing products that are all free of plastic packaging. You can bring your own container or use one of the paper bags in the shops. In Auckland the shops include:

  • Bin Inn
  • Commonsense Organics
  • Good For
  • Huckleberry
  • Refill Nation
  • Sprout the Grocer
  • The Source

What you can do: Bring your own containers or use the paper bags and get buying bulk. Paper bags are a great addition to the home compost. There are lots of glass jars in charity shops for storing dry food or accumulate your own from food you’ve bought.

Myth 3: All our household recycling is processed in China

Fact: While China effectively banned receiving recyclables (paper, cardboard and plastic) through the National Sword policy in 2018, New Zealand has solutions for recycling here and offshore.

The materials below are recycled in the following locations:

  • Aluminium and steel cans are recycled in New Zealand and Asia. Both aluminium and steel retain their quality during recycling and can be recycled forever.
  • Glass is recycled in New Zealand and turned into bottles and jars. Glass can also be recycled continuously.
  • Paper and cardboard is recycled in New Zealand as well as Asia. Paper fibres shorten each time it is recycled, so paper can only be recycled about four to six times. Recycled items include corrugated cardboard, egg cartons, newsprint and fruit trays.
  • Plastics go to Australia and South East Asia and are made into buckets and wheelie bins, amongst other items.

What you can do: Consider where an item will end up once its primary purpose has finished. The best way to reduce waste is to avoid purchasing new items at the outset.

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