A new scheme to recycle soft plastic bags is positive but doesn't do enough to prevent plastic pollution, the Greens say.
The Government-funded initiative would see drop-off points established at shops and supermarkets, and a new recycling plant in Auckland with capacity to recycle a range of soft plastics including shopping bags, bread bags, frozen food bags and food wrap.
Environment Minister Nick Smith said the initiative would be funded from the government's Waste Minimisation Fund with a $700,000 grant to the Packaging Forum to trial the drop-off service, and a $510,000 grant to Astrong Plastics Group which will establish the new dry-cleaning facility.
Dr Smith said the new scheme would allow plastics not currently able to be collected by kerbside recycling to be re-used.
"This approach has proved successful in Australia through the Coles Group and saved thousands of tonnes of plastic going to landfill. The longer-term objective of this initiative would be for 70 per cent of New Zealanders to have access to a drop-off facility for soft plastics within 20km of their home."
Green Party waste spokeswoman Denise Roche said the scheme wouldn't fix the problem of plastic bags in waterways and on beaches, because it wouldn't reduce the number of bags used.
Ms Roche said while the Government claimed its scheme was modelled on the Australia, it did not include the step most Australian states had taken of banning or putting a levy on single-use plastic bags.
"Unfortunately, the new system does nothing to reduce the number of plastic bags that people use, so it seems unlikely to reduce the number of plastic bags that clog our drains and end up on our beaches and in our waterways where they harm birds and fish," Ms Roche said.
"This is a half measure that won't fix the bigger problem, which is that New Zealanders use about 1 billion plastic bags every year."
Local Government New Zealand has also supported a call for a levy on plastic bags.
At its annual general meeting in Rotorua today, member councils voted strongly in favour of the Palmerston North City Council-proposed levy, saying while recycling was important, the country must also focus on reducing bag usage.
But Dr Smith said the recycling scheme was more sensible than a ban or levy.
"These bags make up only 0.2 per cent of waste going to landfill, and only 10 per cent of plastic waste. Nor can a ban or a compulsory levy be justified when plastic shopping bags only make up 1.5 per cent of the litter items in nationwide litter surveys."
The Packaging Forum said the project would initially be trialled at New World, Pak'n Save and The Warehouse stores in Auckland before rolling out to Countdown stores in Hamilton, then Wellington, Canterbury, Otago, Bay of Plenty, Manawatu and other regions over three years.
Public place recycling scheme manager Lyn Mayes said the scheme would take any plastic which could be scrunched into a ball, including biscuit wrapping, chip bags, and sanitary product packaging.
Initially the products will be sent to Australia until a facility in New Zealand is able to process them.
Countdown supermarkets general manager of strategy and corporate affairs Richard Manaton said the strength of the programme was that it included all those involved in the life-cycle of plastic packaging, including manufacturers, distributors and consumers.
Countdown would also continue to encourage shoppers to bring their own reusable bags.