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SMC: Plastics: what breaks down?

Press Release – Science Media Centre

Plastics: what breaks down? The Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment has tasked the Government with clearing up the confusion around environmentally friendly plastics.Plastics: what breaks down?
The Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment has tasked the Government with clearing up the confusion around environmentally friendly plastics.

Biodegradable, degradable, compostable – it’s a minefield when it comes to understanding how long plastics stick around in the environment, so the PCE has created an online resource to help clear things up.

In doing so, Commissioner Simon Upton urged the Government to take the lead in lifting consumer and business understanding about claims of biodegradability of plastics.
The issue was complex because the impact of plastic on the environment depended on what it was made from and how it was disposed, Upton told RNZ’s Nine to Noon.
“One can’t simply toss these products onto the compost heap, or into our recycling bins, and go away thinking ‘job done’.”

Waste Management Institute New Zealand chief executive Paul Evans told the NZ Herald there was “significant confusion” about terminology.
“At the moment there are a plethora of standards and manufacturers are creating their own labels, which only adds to the confusion.”

Plastic disposal and plastic bags have made frequent headlines recently, from Stuff’s Bags Not campaign to speculation the Government may ban single use plastic bags.

The Science Media Centre gathered expert commentary on what steps consumers can take while we await clearer guidance.

Quoted: RNZ
“It’s coming back to habitat that would have been used by its ancestors. It hasn’t got lost – it’s really checking out new areas for this expanding population.”
University of Otago marine biologist Dr Will Rayment
on why the southern right whale showed up in Wellington Harbour.
New Climate Change Coalition
Chief executives from 60 businesses in the private sector have committed to climate change action.
The pledge outlines three key commitments:
• measuring and reporting on emissions,
• setting a target aligned to staying within 2C of warming,
• working with suppliers to reduce emissions.
These businesses cover sectors including tourism, farming, transport, food and retail and are said to represent half of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Z chief executive Mike Bennetts told The Spinoff each company will work to its own reporting standards, but he expected many would do it at least as a voluntary add-on in their annual reports – which are a legal requirement.

Antarctic researcher Professor Tim Naish said while the announcement was encouraging, good intentions must translate to action.

Professor James Renwick wrote: “Combined with the recent announcement from the Farming Leaders Group that the agriculture sector is committed to zero carbon emissions by 2050, there’s a real sense that attitudes across the business sector are changing.”

The SMC gathered expert commentary on the announcement.

Thai kids face long recovery
The prodigious rescue of the 12 Thai football players and their coach may be complete, but their ordeal is far from over.

Details have begun to emerge about the physical health of the 12 boys and their coach following their harrowing ordeal in the Tham Luang cave – and so far it appears they have escaped life-threatening injury or infection.

But the mental toll the ordeal has had may last the rest of their lives, psychologists have said. Wellington psychologist Karen Nimmo said the boys were likely to grapple with varying degrees of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as they reintegrate into their homes and families.

Through the Science Media Centre, Massey University psychologist Associate Professor Sarb Johal provided valuable insight on what the boys might have been feeling while they were trapped in the cave, which included feelings of helplessness, fear and heightened emotions. His comments were also picked up internationally, and he featured on Australian television saying the boys’ morale during the ordeal was heartening.

He later said the boys may have increased risk of anxiety, depression and even substance abuse due to their traumatic experience, but said the strong support they have had from the rescue teams and family will help.

Policy news & developments

Mangere redevelopment: An ambitious programme will see 10,000 new homes built for families from all walks of life, Housing Minister Phil Twyford announced.

Hydrogen fuel infrastructure: A grant of $950,000 will be made to Hiringa Energy and its partners which is seeking to develop zero emission hydrogen transport fuel.

M. bovis milk testing: A second round of nationwide milk testing will be carried out by MPI, to test for the presence of Mycoplasma bovis.

Track closures possible: To prevent the spread of Kauri dieback, DOC is considering the closure of 34 North Island walking tracks.

Bowel screening programme expands: Counties Manukau has rolled out free bowel screening as part of the National Bowel Screening Programme.

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