The Green Party wants to set up a nationwide "cash for trash" refund scheme for recyclable drinking cans and bottles.

The party announced a policy package today that would also impose an immediate 20-cent charge on single-use plastic bags and ban such bags altogether by 2020.

Community groups who carry out clean-ups of the coastline, bush and other areas, with the remainder funding research and development into plastic bag alternatives.

Greens leader James Shaw said a refund programme for cans and bottles would double recycling rates and create 2400 jobs - and save councils $26-40 million each year.

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"Cash for trash refund programmes work with kerbside recycling to give people options and help keep recyclable waste out of landfills.

"Ninety per cent of local councils endorsed the idea because they've seen that it's worked in Australia where South Australia, a state with a container deposit scheme, has the lowest rate of litter."

Shaw said it was time to use plastic alternatives such as bamboo and stop the overuse of plastics in packaging and utensils.

"Declaring plastic cups, plates, utensils and packaging priority products under the product stewardship scheme will allow the cost of disposal to be built in, enable targets to be made for reduction and price-in the cost of disposal - opening a new market for sustainable alternatives."

Shaw said the Greens would also commit New Zealand to be "zero waste" by 2050.

New Labour leader Jacinda Ardern has focused her party on environmental issues since taking over, using her campaign launch speech to call climate change this generation's "nuclear free moment".

She followed those comments up at a Business NZ conference this week by urging businesses to embrace the opportunities fighting climate change could bring, and not see it as a burden.

The Green Party is in a fight for survival after Ardern's rise and the strife over Metiria Turei's resignation as co-leader saw it plummet below the 5 per cent threshold needed to return to Parliament in one recent poll.

Shaw said the policy commitments outlined today showed "we are the only party committed to real leadership on the environment".