The plan by Government to phase out single-use plastic shopping bags over the next year has been greeted with a chorus of approval.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern who with associate environment minister Eugenie Sage made the announcement at Lyall Bay, Wellington recently said every year in New Zealand hundreds of millions of single-use plastic bags ended up polluting coastal and marine environments.
HPF’s deputy executive director Trevor Simpson commended the move but said in the interim period we needed to look at how to mitigate the level of damage to the environment through minimising the use and dispersal of single use plastic bags.
Mr Simpson said we are already moving towards the use of natural and sustainable bags. Our history also shows us that Aotearoa NZ was a strong producer and exporter of flax products, a native plant that has no detrimental effect on the environment. There is an opportunity to relook at flax and possibly other non-invasive plants as a solution. Products that have no detrimental effect on the environment was the way to go.
“In the meantime, I would recommend that supermarkets and other outlets offer their carry bags free to their customers. Some have already done this. We can make immediate change while we wait for the new policy.” he said.
Greenpeace celebrated the announcement as “a win for people power and the first big step towards addressing marine plastic pollution”.
“This could be a major leap forward in turning the tide on ocean plastic pollution and an important first step in protecting marine life such as sea turtles and whales, from the growing plastic waste epidemic,” said Emily Hunter, Oceans Campaigner at Greenpeace.
“In growing numbers over the last decade, New Zealanders have been calling for a ban on single-use plastic bags. This marks the beginning of the end for over two billion single-use plastic bags that clog our communities, coasts, rubbish dumps and oceans each year,” said Hunter.
The ban on single use plastic bags was a great first step – but we can’t rest on our laurels – we need to follow it up with a set of carefully thought out measures to get to grips with the other single-use plastics … Emily Hunter, Greenpeace.
Local government and Retail NZ, the national retailers body praised Government’s decisive action on the issue.
“Local government have been pushing for action on single-use plastic bags since 2015, due to the significant impacts on the environment and that the costs of dealing with them are ultimately borne by ratepayers,” said LGNZ President Dave Cull.
First Retail Group managing director, Chris Wilkinson said having this confirmation was necessary as “it will now put all retailers on a level playing field, meaning every business will have to provide alternative solutions or encourage customers to bring their own packaging”.
The Packaging Forum, an industry group with a focus on recycling said a ban would set a level playing field for the retail industry and take an estimated 800 million bags out of circulation.
Soft Plastics Recycling Scheme manager Lyn Mayes said the primary goal of the forum was to reduce the amount of plastic packaging used.
Meanwhile Greenpeace has now launched an ambitious new blueprint to tackle New Zealand’s plastic crisis.
The action plan has been developed with a coalition of environmental groups under the banner Plastic Free NZ and has four points: extending the bag ban to “avoidables” such as plastic cutlery, straws and stirrers; starting a deposit system for plastic bottles so people can bring empties back for cash; imposing a levy on “problematic” items such as coffee cups, food packaging and cigarette butts and setting the country ambitious plastic reduction targets to monitor progress.
“The ban on single use plastic bags was a great first step – but we can’t rest on our laurels – we need to follow it up with a set of carefully thought out measures to get to grips with the other single-use plastics (SUPs),” said Hunter.
In New Zealand an estimated 77 per cent of the plastic waste washed up on our beaches are SUPs.
According to Greenpeace many other countries around the world including France, Vanuatu and Costa Rica are developing cohesive strategies on plastic. New Zealand doesn’t have one.
Major supermarket brands such as New World and Countdown are expected to get rid of SUPs by the end of this year.
The Warehouse Group is bypassing its transitionary step of introducing compostable bags at its checkouts and is moving directly to offering only reusable bags at its 254 stores.
The Warehouse and Warehouse Stationery CEO Pejman Okhovat says the change is an exciting one for the group.
“We’re really chuffed to once again be leading the charge against plastic and removing all single-use checkout bags next year.”
Mitre 10 and Z Energy have announced plans to phase out the bags.
Ms Sage wants the public to give feedback on the best ways for this ban to be phased in and has opened consultation until September 14.
Ms Sage said the mandatory phase-out would be developed under the Waste Minimisation Act.
DUMPED: Plastic bags, some filled with rubbish, mar the landscapes of some of Auckland’s most scenic walking routes.