The government intends to spend $1.2 million on a plastic bag recycling initiative, but this has not quelled resistance in the form of petitions, social media and public meetings that demand further action such as a compulsory charge for plastic bags at point of sale.
Local Government New Zealand (LGNZ) has voted in favour of requesting the government impose a levy on plastic shopping bags. This follows a proposal from Palmerston North City Council for a nation-wide levy on single-use plastic bags, which was supported by LGNZ.
Globally 500 billion plastic bags are generated every year, which take 500 to 1000 years to degrade. These bags are responsible for the death of more than 100,000 marine animals. In NZ specifically, 40,000 plastic shopping bags are dumped in a landfill every hour.
The soft plastics recycling program as announced by Minister for the Environment, Dr Nick Smith, and the Packaging Forum, will enable customers to return plastic bags to participating stores after use for collection and recycling into useful public goods like children’s playground equipment, park benches and recycling bins.
Smith says the government’s initiative will see thousands of tonnes of soft plastics such as shopping bags, bread bags, frozen food bags and food wrap recycled. These types of plastic are not accepted by kerbside recycling services. The initiative will see $700,000 go to The Packaging Forum to fund a trial of a drop-off recycling service at Pak’nSave, New World, Countdown and The Warehouse stores across Auckland. Astron Plastics Group will be granted $510,000 to establish a new dry-cleaning facility in Auckland to recycle soft plastics.
“This approach has proved successful in Australia through the Coles Group and saved thousands of tonnes of plastic going to landfill. The longer-term objective of this initiative would be for 70 per cent of New Zealanders to have access to a drop-off facility for soft plastics within 20 kilometres of their home,” Smith says.
On the question of a levy on plastic shopping bags, LGNZ’s view is that a charge for plastic bags will deter people from using them and reduce the number that are produced.
Smith disagrees with this viewpoint and maintains a soft plastics recycling program is a more sensible approach than a ban or a compulsory levy on just plastic shopping bags as these bags make up only 0.2 per cent of waste going to landfill and only 10 per cent of plastic waste. He queries how a ban or a compulsory levy can be be justified when plastic shopping bags only make up 1.5 per cent of the litter items in nationwide litter surveys.