Rotorua will be "on the cutting edge of environmental protection" after Scion was today given more than $480,000 for waste minimisation research.

Associate Environment Minister Eugenie Sage announced the funding during a visit to the Rotorua-based Crown Research Institute at Whakarewarewa this afternoon.

Eugenie Sage's funding announcement and visit to Scion. Photo / Stephen Parker
Eugenie Sage's funding announcement and visit to Scion. Photo / Stephen Parker

Exactly $481,134.70 has been granted from the Government's Waste Minimisation Fund as part of its wider plan to shift "to a clean, green, carbon-neutral New Zealand".

"We know New Zealanders want to see less single-use plastic waste and less environmental harm from plastics," Sage said.

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One of the projects would look at how materials such as compostable plastics, laminated materials, and paper degraded in New Zealand's composting environments.

"There is a lot more work needed to ensure 'compostable' packaging reliably breaks down in home compost or commercial compost systems. We want to ensure that products labelled as 'compostable' don't contain elements such as micro-plastics which cause contamination issues in the final compost product."

Aerial view of Scion in Rotorua. Photo / File
Aerial view of Scion in Rotorua. Photo / File

Another would look at shifting the plastics sector to a circular economic model.

This would start by looking at how plastic was used domestically and where it went.

"We can then work what plastics we need and what types of plastic could be replaced with substitute materials, or recovered and reprocessed," Sage said.

"About 60 per cent of the plastic raw material imported into New Zealand goes into packaging. Based on international studies, 99 per cent of the current 250,000 tonnes of plastic going into New Zealand landfills each year could be diverted through improved product design, using products more than once, and recycling."

The other project would look at reducing waste from product labels on fresh produce.

"Each year New Zealand's manufacturing industry uses billions of labels that are delivered on a roll of glassine paper, which cannot be recycled using conventional paper recycling methods. The roll is normally sent to landfill" Sage said.

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Scion chief executive Dr Julian Elder said partnerships and funding for research were "crucial" for the institute.

Rotorua district councillor and sustainable living portfolio leader Tania Tapsell said: "Rotorua locals, iwi and businesses have told us reducing our impact on the environment is a priority and the findings of this research will assist us."

Rotorua Lakes councillor Tania Tapsell. Photo / File
Rotorua Lakes councillor Tania Tapsell. Photo / File

She said the compost research was particularly important.

"Many compostable options such as coffee cups only compost if they are processed in a commercial composting facility. This research will help bring certainty and understanding."

Harina Rupapera, the Te Arawa co-ordinator for the zero-waste scheme Para Kore, said it was just as important to invest in Mātauranga Māori and the holistic Māori understanding of environment, alongside waste minimisation research.

"[Lack of] mindfulness has a devastating impact on society and environment, as does pollution."

She hoped the Rotorua-based research would educate local residents and councils "of the importance and urgency needed to establish a Para Kore or Zero Waste plan and facility for Rotorua".

She cited the fact that the district's ratepayer-funded weekly rubbish pick-ups covered recycling and landfill, but not compost.

Evolve Rotorua committee member Ben Sandford said it was "fantastic" to see Scion being funded to lead the research.

"Developing natural compostable packaging and labels is of global importance and having that research done here at Scion shows that Rotorua is on the cutting edge of environmental protection and technological development."

The research is due for completion in 2020.