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'It's quite shocking' - Concerns raised over plastic waste in Government's free school lunches

Hamilton parents are concerned over the amount of plastic waste leftover from the Government’s free school lunches scheme.

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It comes after 1 NEWS revealed yesterday that several hundred lunches are being turned down by students each day. Source: 1 NEWS

“It’s quite shocking when you see all that plastic,” Hamilton parent, Robert Bellhouse said.

It comes after 1 NEWS revealed that hundreds of the lunches are being left uneaten by school students.

“You’ve got to wonder if the school’s infrastructure is designed to take that much plastic you know,” Bellhouse said.

“I mean we do our best to recycle with what we have, but that is something to think about, how we can deliver that a bit more environmentally friendly,” Western Community Centre manager Neil Tolan said.

The Green Party also has concerns if the containers are not reused.

“This shows a gap in the Government procurement standards and needs more attention to avoid waste,” Green MP Eugenie Sage said.

This Government has said tackling environmental issues is a priority – it declared a climate emergency last year, phased out plastic bags at the supermarket and recently announced 400 new electric vehicles for the Department of Conservation.

“We’re concerned that the Government is clearly providing with taxpayer money, food that is being wasted and plastics that is just going to go into a landfill,” National’s leader Judith Collins said.

“The Government’s just made us all carry our groceries awkwardly in paper bags, this Government’s policy with free school lunches was all emotion and no intention and it's leading to massive waste undermining their own policies,” ACT’s leader David Seymour said.

Robert Bellhouse is hoping the containers can be made out of environmentally friendly materials.

“Surely we can have something a bit more recyclable, a bit more reusable than that, even something paper-based,” Bellhouse said.

Education Minister Chris Hipkins was contacted for comment, but said it was an “operational issue” and to go to the Ministry of Education.

In a statement to 1 NEWS Katrina Casey from the Ministry of Education said: "Schools and suppliers are required to work together to minimise packaging, reduce the use of plastic food wrap and single use cutlery and tableware, and use reusable and environmentally friendly packaging where they can."

"We are working with schools and suppliers on the best way to use environmentally friendly packaging, and a range of solutions are being used depending on the infrastructure and resources available in the community and region. For example, some use recycled plastics, compostable packaging, or reusable bento boxes that are washed and reused.

"Suppliers are committed to having a minimal environmental impact and recycling, but face the same challenges around plastic use as other New Zealanders, such as making sure food stays fresh and what it is possible to recycle in their region.

"Many of the environmentally friendly options are only manufactured overseas and as a result of supply chain issues caused by the worldwide pandemic, suppliers are also managing difficulties sourcing their preferred packaging solutions."