Government to ban single use plastic bags

Plastic bags will be phased-out over the next year. Photo: Lynn Grieveson.

The Government has announced it will ban single use plastic shopping bags, saying there must be an end to the "mountain" of bags polluting the environment.

However, it has yet to finalise the details of the ban, to take place within the next year, with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern saying she is mindful of the need to help Kiwis adjust their shopping habits.

Ardern, who announced the ban alongside Associate Environment Minister Eugenie Sage, said it was about listening to the growing public discontent over plastic waste.

“We’re phasing-out single use plastic bags so we can better look after our environment and safeguard New Zealand’s clean, green reputation,” Ardern said.

“We’re listening to New Zealanders who want us to take action on this problem. This year 65,000 Kiwis signed a petition calling for an outright ban.”

Long time coming

Over 100 jurisdictions (including cities and states, not just countries) have implemented outright plastic bag bans, while 41 have introduced levies.

Serious efforts to restrict plastic bags in New Zealand began in 2015 when Local Government New Zealand petitioned the Government for a mandatory levy on plastic bags.

Sage announced in February that the Government was working on policy to address plastic bags, though she did not stipulate whether it would be a levy or a ban.

The Ministry for the Environment said a 2017 survey of New Zealand beaches, harbours and estuaries found microplastics in eight out of ten samples. Scientists estimate there are over 150 million tonnes of plastic in the world’s oceans.

Biodegradable bags to go

The ban will include biodegradable, “oxo-degradable” and “compostable” bags.

The consultation document says this is because these bags can be equally harmful if they do not enter an environment in which they were intended to break down. Some can still break down into micro-plastics.

The Government has said other single use plastics could also be heading for the bin, but there has been no announcement on further bans yet.

It said that businesses and consumers are taking action on reducing the use of other plastic packaging, straws and cotton buds — but there was no mention yet of regulating these items.

The Government has launched a consultation process to decide the exact date by which the bags will need to be phased out, which bags that should be banned, possible retailers that should be excluded from the ban, and how to best help with the transition.

It is proposing a six-month transition period for consumers to prepare for the ban.

Consultation will close on September 14.