More work to be done on plastic

The Government has pledged to rid the country of single-use plastic shopping bags over the next year, a move already being undertaken by some supermarkets.

A consultation document has been released for people wanting more information. It is asking for public opinion on a date for the phase-out to be complete, which bags should be included, whether any retailers should be exempt, and how best to help people with the transition.

Despite the consultation period being announced by the Government, the die has been cast. Single-use plastic shopping bags will be gone by next year.

Associate Minister for the Environment Eugenie Sage has some interesting decisions to make soon about the fate of these so-called single-use shopping bags. Social media is abuzz with people providing different scenarios where the bags are used more than once. Some are used to pick up dog droppings when owners are out walking their dogs. Others are used to collect rubbish around the garden and some are used to line waste bins in the home.

People have been quick to denounce the use of the bags as bin liners, pointing out newspaper makes a good liner and the bins are easily washed. This is true, but it is starting to border on dangerous territory when people are instructed on how to dispose of their household waste.

A few years ago, there were unsuccessful attempts to regulate what shower heads could be used in the bathroom and what light bulbs were the best to use. As time has gone on, people have moved voluntarily to water saving shower heads and the long-life light bulbs are seen in homes and businesses throughout New Zealand.

The Government is proposing a six month phase-out period. Phasing out single-use plastic bags helps maintain the country's clean, green reputation, it says.

The decision for a phase-out period rather than a levy makes the decision easier for shoppers to accept. Consumers are ready for action to be taken and there is no doubt there is a shifting tide against plastic bags, which probably comes down to media attention on the negative impacts of plastic and a flow on from the microbeads ban.

So far, the consumer response to the recent Countdown and New World decisions to ban bags has been positive and may pave the way for more consumers to buy reusable bags. Peer pressure can be motivation in itself.

In suburban New Zealand, this will mean corner dairies having to find an alternative way of supplying customers a means to carry their last-minute purchases if, for instance, they arrive without a reusable bag. Takeaway outlets will also need to rethink their options.

The ban is likely to cover a large majority of retailers. Even if some become exempt, it will become a social norm not to provide plastic bags.

It is likely a stigma will be attached to retailers still providing plastic bags, which will eventually push the retailing industry to ditch them and encourage reusable carrying methods.

But there is more work to be done. The Dunedin City Council would be wise to revisit the supply of three bins to households - one for waste, one for green waste and the current bin for recycling. In forcing ratepayers to use the black plastic rubbish bags, the council is out of step with some of its major counterparts.

In August 2009, councillors at an extraordinary infrastructure services committee voted 10-4 in favour of an option which retained black bags for weekly rubbish collection and blue bins used for fortnightly collection of glass recyclables only. A new 140-litre bin was also introduced for paper, plastic and other mixed recycling materials, also to be collected fortnightly.

The cost of the three bins to ratepayers was given as a major impediment to their introduction. It is time for the council to reconsider how it can implement the scheme at a lesser cost to its ratepayers.

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