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Up to 4,500 metric tonnes of plastic waste, enough to fill an entire sports stadium, will pollute New Zealand’s environment this year, according to a confronting new study. 

The study, published in the prestigious Science publication, examines the impact of three key tactics — plastic waste reduction, waste management and environmental recovery — under three scenarios in order to calculate likely plastic emissions by 2030 for 173 nations.

Researchers concluded that “extraordinary efforts” are required to reduce emissions, and even in the optimum scenario, “huge quantities” of plastic will still enter the world’s land, waterways and oceans. 

Lead researcher Stephanie Borrelle acknowledged the great work New Zealand is doing to address plastic waste.

But Borrelle highlighted that with a population of under 5 million people, New Zealand has a high per capita use of plastics, and is not exempt from the tough new reductions the study asks of all nations.

Researchers say that for no more than 8 million metric tonnes to enter the environment by 2030, the amount set as a fair target in 2015, all countries must reduce plastic waste by 25% to 40%. 

Waste management must increase by up to 60%, and 40% of plastic emissions need to be recovered.

"In terms of what it means for Aotearoa, imagine a Westpac Trust Stadium full of plastic entering oceans, rivers and lakes every day by 2030 — and that's an optimistic scenario. It could be two stadiums if we carry on with piecemeal actions that the world is taking now," Borrelle told New Zealand Herald. "Globally, we predict plastic accumulation in rivers, lakes and the oceans could be as high as 780 million metric tonnes between 2016 and 2030."

New Zealand has long been considered a clean, green nation. 

A separate 2019 report ranked the country first in air quality, renewable energy and green space in the Asia-Pacific region. 

That same report, however, revealed similar plastic waste findings, with New Zealand averaging the second highest daily plastic waste per capita of the 13 surveyed countries — including Hong Kong, China, Malaysia, India and Vietnam.

In 2019, New Zealand banned single-use plastic shopping bags. A year prior, the country also signed onto the New Plastics Economy Global Commitment — an international agreement that sees governments, businesses and non-governmental organisations unite to address the source of plastic waste and invest in a circular economy approach to plastics. 

"We’re heading in the right direction, but we need to look at the whole plastic system in New Zealand and join other countries in adopting a true sustainable economy approach,” New Zealand Associate Environment Minister Eugenie Sage said at the time of signing.


Defend the Planet

Thousands of Tonnes of Plastic Waste Will Pollute New Zealand This Year: Study

By Madeleine Keck