Rethinking Plastics in Aotearoa New Zealand – Chief Science Advisor


Rethinking Plastics in Aotearoa New Zealand – PMCSA panel reports

In light of increasing public concern over the harmful effects of plastic pollution, the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor, Professor Juliet Gerrard, is presenting the Rethinking Plastics in Aotearoa New Zealand report to the Prime Minister on Sunday 8th December.

The report highlights that New Zealand is in a position to rethink how we use plastics, but the evidence base to guide this change in a system-wide way was lacking, and so has collected the evidence in a comprehensive report and website (

“We convened a panel of experts from within and beyond academia earlier in the year and set out with a bold and broad scope – to find ways to reduce the size of the plastic shadow that is cast by modern life. Plastic is everywhere and tackling the problem of plastic waste needs a systems change, a collection of adjustments – some large, some small – across all aspects of society,” Juliet said.

The long, detailed piece of work can actually be summed up quite simply, says Juliet. “Most of our recommendations can be captured in a single phrase ‘make best practice, standard practice’.”

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The project, led by Dr Rachel Chiaroni-Clarke from the Office of the PMCSA, involved wide consultation and analysis of evidence and innovations from here and overseas to chart a pathway forward for plastic in New Zealand.

“An issue met early on was the need for a clear strategy to guide the use and disposal of plastic in Aotearoa. But there’s also an urgent need for action, so our overarching recommendation is to implement a National Plastics Action Plan. We have recommended a basis for this plan in our report and hope it can be built on and continue to grow and guide this systems change,” Rachel says.

The panel determined that an evidence-based plan would help guide the many groups, such as businesses, sectors, community groups and councils, who are looking to use plastics more sustainably or shift away from plastic altogether.

“There are many great innovations and ideas already out there that can help mitigate the harms related to plastic while retaining its many benefits. Some are innovative new business models that help reusing materials become the new norm. Others are simple ideas such as an easy-to-understand labelling system so people know whether a product can be recycled. And then there are all of the new materials and new recycling technologies that are here or on the horizon. These need to be adopted, localised and scaled,” Juliet says.

“Everything we use has an impact on our environment, so we don’t want to just go out and replace plastics with a different material that may result in worse outcomes. That being said, the growing body of evidence related to plastics in the environment makes the case for changes to certain products. That might mean shifting away from plastics for certain applications or it might mean redesigning a plastic product so that, for example, a lid can no longer detach and end up in the ocean. It will depend on the product and application,” Juliet says.

Further research is required to better understand the impacts of plastic on the environment and health, and there is a lack of data on plastic in Aotearoa New Zealand.

“We need better data on plastic and further research is needed on the impacts of plastics, particularly microplastics and even smaller particles called nanoplastics. There is a lot we don’t know, but what we do know so far highlights the need to develop better systems to prevent plastic from entering our environment,” Rachel says.

Key recommendations from Rethinking Plastics in Aotearoa New Zealand:

1. Implement a National Plastics Action Plan
An overarching recommendation to guide Aotearoa New Zealand’s transition to a circular economy for plastics.
2. Improve plastics data collection
A series of recommendations to fill known knowledge gaps and develop measures to coordinate and standardise data collection on plastics to guide decision-making.
3. Embed rethinking plastics in the government agenda
A series of recommendations that address opportunities for government to demonstrate best practice, ensure efforts to mitigate issues related to plastics are enduring, and collaborate internationally on these issues.
4. Create and enable consistency in design, use and disposal
A series of recommendations to keep plastics in circulation through improved recycling systems and sector-specific approaches to rethinking plastics.
5. Innovate and amplify
A series of recommendations related to research and innovation for plastics.
6. Mitigate environmental and health impacts of plastics
A series of recommendations to fill knowledge gaps and support ongoing research on the impacts of plastics.

What’s covered in Rethinking Plastics?

1. Motivation for rethinking plastics:
The current state of play for plastics in Aotearoa New Zealand, highlighting key work that we build upon, and describing the guiding frameworks for the Rethinking Plastics project.

2. Changing our relationship with plastics:
Evidence and examples of ways that we can change our relationship with plastics, presented as possible actions that central government, local government, sectors, businesses, communities, the education system and individuals can take, as part of a global community.

3. Ideas for a more sustainable future – embracing innovation:
Innovative ideas that can help us shift to a more sustainable use of plastics. These are framed as actions that align to the 6Rs – rethink, refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle and replace – plus options for disposal as we move towards zero plastic waste.

4. Plastics and the environment – life-cycle assessment and beyond:
Demonstrating the importance of thinking about the environmental impacts of a product through its whole life cycle – not just disposal – and a summary of the growing body of evidence around the environmental impacts of plastic and what this means for Aotearoa New Zealand.

5. To what extent can we quantify Aotearoa’s plastic? New Zealand’s data challenge:
Drawing on publicly accessible data, we attempt to quantify plastic flows through Aotearoa New Zealand, highlighting knowledge gaps and what data are needed to inform plastics action across the country.

Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor
Professor Juliet Gerrard, the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor, Kaitohutohu Mātanga Pūtaiao Matua ki te Pirimia, has a broad role centred around advising the Prime Minister on how science in its very broadest sense can inform good decision making in Aotearoa, New Zealand. Juliet has a vision for the role around four principles: rigorous, inclusive, transparent and accessible. She aims to create a trusted bridge between science, society and government.

Report available here:
Full report

Key messages

At a glance



  1. I like the idea of creating a guide for the people of New Zealand to follow but how effective will this guide really be? How long will it take for change to really show up due to the fact that some citizens might not really care about the guide at all?

  2. CEAC as a community based NGO wish to give this advice about reducing plastics in our environment, as some aspects we raise may have not been considered by the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor, Professor Juliet Gerrard, as she was presenting the Rethinking Plastics in Aotearoa New Zealand report to the Prime Minister on Sunday 8th December.

    Please consider those issues of micro-plastics scientists have found in our press release below.
    *stop using plastic carpeting and use wool carpets again.
    *Stop use of synthetic tyres – switch to eco-friendly tyres
    *Use rail with no tyres..
    Citizens Environmental Advocacy Centre Incorporated (CEAC) Est’ 2001.
    PO Box 474. Napier. Email;
    Protecting our environment & health.
    In association with other Community Groups, NHTCF and all Government Agencies since 2001.
    • Health and wellbeing.
    • East Coast Transport Project.
    • CEAC – How to stop destructive loss of ocean oxygen?
    • Monday, 9 December 2019, 9:03 am
    Press Release: Citizens Environmental Advocacy Centre

    CEAC – How to stop destructive loss of ocean oxygen?
    Monday, 9 December 2019, 9:03 am
    Press Release: Citizens Environmental Advocacy Centre
    The shock of an alarming release of the report at the Climate Change conference in Madrid COPs 25 yesterday on the discovery loss of widespread ocean oxygen is another watershed moment that must be recognised as dire for our future survival.
    “Oceans losing oxygen at unprecedented rate, experts warn of the loss of ocean oxygen at-unprecedented-rate”
    Quote ;
    “Oxygen in the oceans is being lost at an unprecedented rate, with “dead zones” proliferating and hundreds more areas showing oxygen dangerously depleted, as a result of the climate emergency and intensive farming, experts have warned.
    Sharks, tuna, marlin and other large fish species were at particular risk, scientists said, with many vital ecosystems in danger of collapse. Dead zones – where oxygen is effectively absent – have quadrupled in extent in the last half-century, and there are also at least 700 areas where oxygen is at dangerously low levels, up from 45 when research was undertaken in the 1960s.”
    Losing-oxygen-at-unprecedented-rate-experts-warn Oxygen Level Decrease in Air from Climate Change
    A scientist Paul Beckwith University of Ottawa already has a study about this issue in a discussion you tube presentation.
    Paul Beckworth states; “Combustion of fossil fuels causes oxygen to decrease in the atmosphere/ocean system.
    As does deforestation, exponential population growth and phytoplankton loss in the oceans from warming stratification limiting nutrients at the surface.
    It is often said that the oxygen in every second breath you take is produced by photo plankton, that are the true lungs of the planet. I discuss the extend of the oxygen decrease, which is more than you want to know.”
    We know already that micro-plastics are detected in our oceans and even deposited in ice packs and alpine snow in many areas of the globe now.
    So where could some of the “micro-plastics” come from?
    Now a German scientific study has traced the micro-plastics to tyre ‘particulates’ from vehicles, so we are now part of the problem apparently.
    Tyres are used in every corner of the globe now, and we have never considered tyre dust to be a threat and a potential pollutant to our environment, have we?
    Tyres are made from oil ‘distillate’ products like styrene ,polyethene, nylon, butadiene and many others including formaldehyde, – so we should not be surprised at the sheer problems these “micro-plastics may be causing to our environment now and all living organisms.
    So could we find ‘cleaner less toxic materials’ from which to make those tyres from?
    We studied this problem and discovered that in 2001 three large international tyre companies came together to fund a study to produce a ‘prototype tyre’ that contained far less toxic chemicals than tyres are currently made from, which consisted of wood, grass and corn derivatives which may be a part solution to our reduction and less use toxic petroleum waste products and those companies are Bridgestone, Michelin, and Yulex Corporation specifically.
    From sustainable feedstocks to finished products. at
    On the product application font, Bridgestone has recently launched Ecopia EP001S tyre with an A/A rating for wet grip as well as fuel economy in Europe and Japan.
    144 Optimized top tread compound with maximum resistance toward aquaplaning and increased stiffness of the tread blocks has led to such improved tyre performance.
    In 2012, Michelin had launched the MICHELIN ENERGY EV tyre for electric cars to increase their autonomy, which improves fuel economy and hence contributes toward sustainability.
    145 Bridgestone has very recently developed tyre, which is made of 100% Guayule rubber. The company has also set an ambitious target of producing its entire tyre portfolio from sustainable materials.
    146 Recently, Yulex Corporation has launched Yulex Pure, a guayule rubber that meets the requisite critical performance standards for many medical, industrial, and consumer applications and surpasses the performance standards of many synthetic lattices.
    147 The company is using advanced genomic technologies for commercial production. These are a few instances, which reflect the urge and motivation of various companies toward sustainability.
    Perhaps now NZ could become a world leader by finally producing the first ‘new commercially available ‘eco-friendly vehicle tyre composition’ since it has been science tested but yet to go into production here?
    ‘Eco-friendly vehicle tyre composition’ has been on the scientific horizon and has been known since 2001, – so why is it not in widespread use by now?
    Perhaps ‘Big Oil’ felt it would damage their financial status after an oil free component vehicle tyre may be popular as they can be made of grass, trees, corn, and perhaps no petrochemicals may be needed to build the first “Eco-tyre?
    (QUOTE) “According to the Rubber Manufacturers Association, each tire produced takes 7 gallons of oil”
    These two documents provide the evidence to show about “road dust from tyres is an overlooked pollutant of our waterways.
    Tyre dust is micro-plastics.
    • If the world is to limit the effects of global warming, drastic changes must be made and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report Executive Summary.
    • All must be taken seriously now along with; “Comparison of Tire and Road Wear Particle Concentrations in Sediment for Watersheds in France, Japan, and the United States by Quantitative Pyrolysis GC/MS Analysis” report on sediments for watersheds.
    QUOTE: “Comparison of Tire and Road Wear Particle Concentrations in Sediment for Watersheds in France, Japan, and the United States by Quantitative Pyrolysis GC/MS Analysis
    Impacts of surface runoff to aquatic species are an ongoing area of concern. Tire and road wear particles (TRWP) are a constituent of runoff, and determining accurate TRWP concentrations in sediment is necessary in order to evaluate the likelihood that these particles present a risk to the aquatic environment. TRWP consist of approximately equal mass fractions of tire tread rubber and road surface mineral encrustations. Sampling was completed in the Seine (France), Chesapeake (U.S.), and Yodo-Lake Biwa (Japan) watersheds to quantify TRWP in the surficial sediment of watersheds characterized by a wide diversity of population densities and land uses. By using a novel quantitative pyrolysis-GC/MS analysis for rubber polymer, we detected TRWP in 97% of the 149 sediment samples collected.
    Plastic carpeting?
    When we looked into the humble household carpet for any emissions of “micro- plastic particulates we were again shocked that 95% of the standard carpeting today is made from oil based derivatives again such as ‘Nylon 6’ and it’s many volatile organic chemical components.
    What Toxic Substances are Present in Carpets according to the EU.
    Nonylphenols (NPs)
    Nonylphenol Ethoxylates (NPEOs
    Flame Retardants
    Stain Repellents: Per- and polyfluorinated alkyl substances (PFAS
    Heavy Metals & Metal Compounds
    Dyes and Pigments.
    Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs)
    Other VOCs – “New Carpet Smell”.
    Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC).
    Styrene Butadiene Rubber Latex (SBR Latex)
    This potentially toxic combination used in carpeting was only produced since woollen carpeting was less aggressively marketed as a floor covering for insulation during the 1970’s although the performance of insulation using wool was three times more thermally efficient than ‘Nylon 6’ plastic acrylic carpeting insulation is.
    Now any nylon carpeting dust is linked to many health concerns, and is regarded as a human toxic exposure if the dust particles and VOC gasses released are breathed into the lungs and consumed in food consumed. The nylon dust from walking and wear will become a ‘micro-plastic’ when we are walking outside and removed from our shoes then washed down drains by rain. Did we ever think of this?
    Then we have now according to this UN press release below;
    Wednesday, 4 December 2019, 9:34 am
    Press Release: UN News
    “Exceptional global heat driven by greenhouse gas emissions mean this decade will most likely go down as the warmest on record, according to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) which released its provisional statement on the State of the Global Climate on Tuesday.”
    So if our every day use of plastics in ‘every walk of life’ is not checked for ‘micro-plastics’ then we are part of today’s problems that are causing climate change.
    Big question is; – ‘How to firstly stop destructive loss of ocean oxygen’?
    We have always advocated to Government for our transport to return using rail as our prime mover ‘of people and freight’ around our country.
    With rail we have no transport tyre ‘micro-plastic’ emissions, as micro-plastics are seen as the worst enemy causing climate change in the articles above.
    So less ‘transport micro-plastic dust’ is considered as a major plus – and only ‘steel wheels on a steel track’ will do the job to deal with Climate change, so if we lower the micro-plastics emissions in our environment we will make our lives healthy again then.

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