TODAY |

Resurgence in use of single use plastic post Covid-19

Avoidance of single use plastics was becoming normal pre-Covid, but in the race to protect lives the environmentally unfriendly product has had a resurgence.

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The environmentally unfriendly products are back in full force. Source: 1 NEWS

Sustainability consultant Nick Morrison told 1 NEWS, "I think there's been a backwards step".

"People are pretty scared of catching this virus and so the idea of single use throwaway stuff is attractive again," he said.

Takeaway coffee cups, one example.

"We got a lot of New Zealanders got into really good habits of taking a cup with them...then a lot of these cafes stopped the reusables and were only doing takeaway cups again, which is so frustrating cause we were making good progress there", he said.

When it comes to protective equipment, plastic's even become a hero, but unfortunately masks and gloves are now being found in the ocean.

Over the last two years, complaints of too much plastic use has been a constant for Countdown.

"The single biggest issue that New Zealanders have raised with our business is not the price of butter but actually about plastic," said Kiri Hannifin.

In a trial, cut short by lockdown, the supermarket trialled an 'unwrapped' fresh produce section in three of its stores.

Everything from lettuces to grapes were loose.

In total the trial saved a tonne of plastic, but there were challenges.

Ms Hannifin said, "we created an environmental issue in terms of food waste and that's no good, we can't take away one harm and add another."

She said unwrapped cucumbers were only lasting about a day on the shelf.

"If it gets a little knick, it rots," she said.

Plus the supermarket found while people wanted 'plastic free', they weren't ready to remove single use options altogether.

"They had a lot of buts. There was oh yeah, it's great you got rid of plastic but we actually want a single use option to replace the plastic, and they wanted paper bags," she said.

"And that's not the future for New Zealand, we want to move away from any single use," she said.

While complaints about plastic use were daily pre-Covid, Ms Hannifin says it now doesn't seem to be a priority for customers.

"Looking after each other and our vulnerable Kiwis is at the forefront of our minds and not so much plastic," she said.

Mr Morrison says both consumers and businesses are responsible for making it a priority again.

"Just rethinking how you're shopping and where you're buying your goods from, and supporting businesses and business people who are trying to solve these problems," he said.

For Countdown the next step is taking plastic away from one product at a time.