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The world’s being smothered in plastic

PET’s a 1.5 litre plastic drink bottle. It lies discarded in the sand of Pilot Bay – a thirst slaked, now empty and abandoned, job done.

PET – an anacronym for polyethylene terephthalate. PET by name, and indestructible by nature.

Because long after our Pilot Bay PET consumer has come and gone, long after his kids have come and gone, and their kids and their kids’ kids, the PET bottle will live on. Perhaps for 450 years, perhaps as many as 1000 years.

That’s because as discarded rubbish, the PET will be swept up and dumped in a landfill.

“People should understand what the hell is going on,” says Tauranga waste minimisation consultant Marty Hoffart.

New Zealanders use 2.23 billion beverage containers a year. Only 40 per cent are recycled. The rest get swept under the environmental carpet – landfilled or become land and marine litter. “So understand that what the hell is going on is not good.”

The planet is in crisis, Marty says, and we don’t have time to stuff about. “We need to talk about the world being smothered in plastic. And we can’t wait another five years.”

And that’s the reason, Marty says, it is important, it’s responsible to press the issue about CDL – container deposit legislation, or CDS – container deposit scheme.

A redeemable container scheme adds value to trash, 10 or 20 cents, when a beverage container is returned to a collection depot. It keeps that container out of the rivers, streams, oceans and landfills.

And Marty says if the Government can ban plastic bags, they can and should, legislate for a CDS. It’s a concept moving like wildfire through Australia – South Australia was the first state to climb aboard and three decades later boasts one of the lowest litter rates in Australia. Both the United Kingdom and Canada are embracing CDSs – as are about 50 other countries, states and provinces worldwide.

“Banning plastic bags wasn’t the Government’s idea,” says Marty. “The Government just jumped on the band wagon, attached themselves to popular opinion. People said: ‘Ban them, just get rid of them’. The work was done, the momentum was already there and the Government stepped in.”

There’s another election in 2020 – that’s another opportunity to apply some heat.

But Associate Minister for the Environment Eugenie Sage isn’t completely sold on the idea. She told The Weekend Sun we all need to take more responsibility for avoiding and reducing waste.

“A CDS is one option well worth considering alongside improving public place recycling, upgrading kerbside collection services and further product stewardship, like industry taking responsibility for the environmental impacts of their products and packaging.”

The Associate Minister is also concerned introducing a CDS could affect existing kerbside and commercial recycling collection systems. “We need to ensure they do not become uneconomic if a CDS is introduced. Councils and industry have invested heavily in new infrastructure and services over recent years.”

“It has nothing to do with kerbside collections,” protests Marty. “If the Associate Minister read the research, it shows bringing in CDL alongside kerbside recycling makes kerbside recycling more valuable.”

And how? “Because 15 to 25 per cent of people will still put their beverage containers in their kerbside bins because they can’t be bothered driving down the road to the cash deposit depot to redeem their bottles.” You see, $20 doesn’t make a difference to some people.

“But the thing about a CDL, it’s not about the beverages we drink at home,” says Marty. “It’s about the one billion we drink outside the home, the one’s we are stuffing in the council trash bins, the one’s we leave on the footpath or in the parks.”

PET is case and point – the drink bottle discarded on Pilot Bay. And Budejovicky Budvar – yesterday 300ml of premium imported Czech beer, today an empty bottle in the gutter on Harington St. The label on the beer bottle tells us it’s worth 10 cents if redeemed in Australia. But here, worthless. It’ll be swept up with the Coke bottle and landfilled.

According to Marty and the research, a CDS should change those behaviours.

“That’s what a container deposit scheme does – it ropes in the billion beverage containers that aren’t drunk at home and aren’t going in the kerbside bin. And, as has been proven round the world, there’s no other way to grab those ones than to put a 10 or 20 cent value on them.”

Again the Associate Minister is unsold. “The results of these schemes overseas have been good in some areas and mixed in others. We need to ensure if we introduce a CDS here that it is made for New Zealand.” Also the Ministry for the Environment doesn’t have enough staff and its budget is already fully committed.

“I guess what annoys me about the MFE is everything seems to take so long,” says Marty. “Why can’t it be a priority when 90 per cent of council support the idea and 83 per cent of the population support it?

“If they haven’t got the staff, then get some. The Government would have all these containers collected and recycled for nothing. We would do it ourselves, there’s no cost. No-one ever goes back, the experience is overwhelmingly positive.”

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