Our Seas Our Future is pleased to see the Government take a stand to phase out single-use plastic bags in New Zealand. The move symbolises that the Ministry for the Environment has taken into account over 9300 submissions made by individuals, businesses and environmental advocacy groups to the Waste Free Future Consultation. OSOF was among the submitters and has long advocated a plastic bag ban. We are pleased to see that of the submissions received, 92% were in favour of the proposed mandatory phase out which indicates that there has been an increased public interest and awareness in plastic pollution issues.
In our submission, OSOF suggested that the phase-out period of at least a six month ‘open’ time-frame should be capped instead to a maximum of six months. We are pleased to see the government has followed these recommendations by setting a six month maximum phase out period occurring before July 1st 2019.
The decision has also been to phase out single-use shopping bags under 70 microns as well as biodegradable plastic bags, which, we were pleased to see. Biodegradable and compostable bags may sound great in concept, but they require specific conditions to biodegrade/compost, which generally is not possible if sent to landfill or disposed of inappropriately. In the future, we would also hope to see plastic bags of greater thickness considered for a second phase out, as larger micron thickness bags can also have a significant environmental impact at the end of their life-cycle.
Finally, we were pleased to see that the Government has included all retailers in the ban. OSOF believes that no retailers should be exempt from the mandatory phase out as alternatives and opportunities already exist for all retailers to adapt within the six month phase out time-frame. In addition, so long as a more convenient plastic alternative is available to some retailers, the desired outcome of a plastic-bag free New Zealand will always be undermined. OSOF recommend that those who sell or produce single-use plastic bags should be accountable and responsible for tracking and managing such bags throughout their life-cycle, including their re-purpose or disposal.
Although OSOF is in support of the mandatory phase out of plastic bags as seen through our submission, we also acknowledge that the ban will not solve the vast issue of plastic pollution that is currently placing a negative impact on our oceans and marine life. We hope that the nationwide plastic bag ban is one step of many towards a more sustainable future which discards the single-use mentality which we currently manifest globally. A future where not only reusable but actually reused bags are part of New Zealand’s cultural norm is the desired outcome and we hope this mentality can extend beyond bags alone. We are glad to see that the government is taking its first active steps towards achieving this greater goal.
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