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Throwaway packaging 'the default’ despite BYO now allowed

May 8, 2020

Throwaway packaging 'the default’ despite BYO now allowed

A bucket buffet - food served in disposable packaging is the new normal as COVID-19 rules out dine-ins. Photo: Sam Wat

Eateries are still using disposable packaging for deliveries and takeaways under Alert Level 3, but environmentalists say there are other options.

The Government has given bring-your-own schemes the green light in the past week, but some businesses are still reluctant to accept reusable cups and containers because of coronavirus fears.

Associate Environment Minister Eugenie Sage says the current priority is to stamp out COVID-19, so “it’s completely understandable that coffee cup users are using disposables rather than refillables," but she's "intrigued" by the ingenuity emerging.

But some cafes have shown serving coffee in keep cups can be safe.

Big Fig Wanaka has introduced a contactless ‘red dot’ system.

“You leave your cup on the red dot, take your lid and stand away… we pour coffees straight into the cup. We don’t touch the cup at all,” part-owner Kennedy Lahood explains.

The counter is sanitised between serving customers.

More than half of Ms Lahood’s customers have brought in their cups in the last week.

“More and more are bringing them in each day as people realise we’re accepting keep cups,” she says.

Zero waste group Takeaways Throwaways says the number of cafes reintroducing bring-your-own schemes is increasing.

“We’re seeing there are ways to think outside the box,” policy spokesperson Hannah Brumhardt says.

Ms Sage says zero contact processes are a great idea.

“I’m very intrigued by New Zealanders’ ingenuity and particularly in the coffee area,” she says.

New Zealand Food Safety says “allowing customers to use reusable cups and containers is up to individual businesses, so long as food safety risks are managed.”

But Ms Brumhardt says we need better systems for sterilising reusable packaging going forward, to ensure they can be used at a large capacity.

“We need to start looking at how we create our default in the economy. Our default has to be around reuse.”

You can listen to Hannah Brumhardt explain more about this, here.

The collapse of our recycling system during a pandemic is a further reason for the government to implement sterilisation processes, Takeaways Throwaways says.

Ms Sage says the sterilisation of reusable packaging is on the government’s list but right now, allowing businesses to operate and restart their cash flows comes first.

Infrastructure issues are being addressed in response to the Rethinking Plastics in Aotearoa New Zealand report, she says.

“It includes the government's commitment to phase out problem plastics like PVC, expanded polystyrene, and better infrastructure for other plastics that can be reused.”

Plastic is the top environmental concern for New Zealanders, according to the 2018 Colmar Brunton Better Futures report. 

Up to $8 million of funding is available in this year’s Waste Minimisation Fund.

Projects which create jobs in the waste sector, food rescue and distribution, and product stewardship are encouraged, Ms Sage says.

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