Two large supermarket chains in Australia, Woolworths and Coles, plan to phase out plastic bag usage over the next 12 months.
Four states (South Australia, the Australian Capital Territory, the Northern Territory, and Tasmania) have already implemented state-wide bans. Coles supermarket is the parent company of New Zealand’s Countdown chain, yet no similar policy is being initiated within New Zealand.
In June this year, the mayors of Dunedin, Wellington and Auckland issued an open letter to all other mayors in the country, calling for the instigation of a national levy on plastic shopping bags. This proposition received overwhelming support from the other leaders, with 90 percent of mayors signing the letter that has since been used to petition the government. The letter was sent to the Associate Minister for the Environment, Scott Simpson, and also states that the majority of Kiwis and retailers also support the move.
It is clear that a reduction in plastic bag usage in New Zealand is necessary. Non-biodegradable bags have a significant impact on the environment, with millions ending up in landfill, in the oceans and natural areas, or littered throughout the cities. As well as being unsightly in our city’s streets, they are incredibly dangerous for wildlife, who either mistake them for food or get caught in them, resulting in their strangulation. They take years to decompose, meaning they can remain in landfill sites for long periods of time – reportedly for up to 1,000 years. Producing them also uses up finite natural resources; at least 100 million barrels of oil are used to make plastic bags for the whole world for one year, and yet the average length of use for a plastic bag is just 12 minutes.
In one year alone New Zealanders used 1.6 billion plastic bags. England and America showed the massive effect that a tax on plastic bags had on their usage; the UK implemented a mere 5p levy, which resulted in a 86 percent decrease in the number of plastic bags in landfills.
However, when One News questioned Mr Simpson on the 17 July about the mayors’ push for a plastic bag levy, he stated that the government, “is not contemplating a plastic bag tax”. Major supermarkets in New Zealand will still be continuing to hand out single-use plastic bags.