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Biodegradable and compostable plastics in the environment

15 July 2018

A significant amount of plastic ends up in the environment, where it can be highly persistent. Public concern about plastic is increasing around the world, including here in New Zealand. The level of concern has created a fertile climate for the promotion of plastics that are said to be environmentally friendly. These include biodegradable, degradable or compostable plastics.

The science behind these products is complex, and the array of environmental claims being made about plastic packaging might easily lead to misunderstandings.

For this reason, the Commissioner decided to initiate a small enquiry to understand the nature of the claims being made. The results of that enquiry are now available as a list of frequently asked questions, with two supporting infographics (these documents are downloadable from the sidebar).

This material is designed to help concerned consumers navigate some of the terminology and the claims being made. But the Commissioner has also written to the Associate Minister for the Environment, urging the Government to step in and take a lead to help clarify the facts.


A poster showing various plastic composting and recycling optionsA poster showing four factors that affect plastic breakdown


  • Resources

    FAQs – Biodegradable and compostable plastics in the environment (PDF 148 KB)
    PCE letter to Hon Eugenie Sage about biodegradable and compostable plastics (PDF 266 KB)
    Media release – Environment Commissioner questions merit of biodegradable plastics (PDF 196 KB)
    Consultant report on biodegradation and environmental impact of oxo-degradable and polyhydroxyalkanoate and polylactic acid biodegradable plastics (PDF 1.17 MB)
    PCE biodegradable plastics infographic - Options
    PCE biodegradable plastics infographic - Breakdown