Towards a waste free future

Have you say on single use plastic bags banner

Have your say on single-use plastic shopping bags

Kōrerohia te pēke hoko kirihou whakamahinga kotahi

Plastic pollution is harming our environment and biodiversity. Scientists estimate that there is over 150 million tonnes of plastic in the world’s oceans today. If nothing changes, plastic in our oceans could weigh more than the fish that live in them by 2050.

Single-use plastic shopping bags are part of the problem, and have become integrated into our everyday lives. Globally we use up to 5 trillion of them each year. But there are now alternatives, and countries, states and cities around the world are phasing them out.

Tell us what you think

We all have a role to play to create a waste free future. As a first step, we’d like to hear your views on a mandatory phase out of single-use plastic shopping bags in New Zealand.

  • Find out more about what this means in the discussion document below
  • Make a detailed submission online
  • Use our quick questionnaire below to share your views.

Submissions open from 10 August 2018 and close on 14 September 2018.


What do you mean by a ‘single-use plastic shopping bag’? Which bags does this consultation include?

When we say ‘single-use plastic shopping bag’ we mean the kind of plastic bags with handles commonly found at supermarket and other retail checkouts, and potentially thicker bags provided by some retailers, which are used for carrying sold goods.

As part of the consultation we are seeking views on the maximum level of thickness for these bags. Options include (but are not limited to) bags under 50 microns and bags under 70 microns. The consultation document has more information on the different types of bags being considered.


What about biodegradable and compostable bags?

The proposed mandatory phase out includes “biodegradable”, “oxo-degradable” and “compostable” bags. These are all types of degradable plastics. We recommend reusable bags over single-use alternatives at this time.

Biodegradable and compostable plastics can be as harmful to nature as their non-biodegradable counterparts if they do not enter an environment that they are designed to break down in. Oxo-degradable bags break down into microplastics, rather than nutrients and materials which nature can absorb. New Zealand does not yet have the nationwide infrastructure established to ensure that biodegradable and compostable plastics are processed in the right way. Starch based plastic bags can degrade with soil bacteria and fungi but not in water or the ocean for example.


What are you consulting on exactly?

We are seeking views on which type of bags should be included in the mandatory phase out (based on thickness), timeframes for implementing a mandatory phase out, and any whether any retailers should be exempted from the mandatory phase out where there is good rationale for an exemption.

We are also asking for feedback on any measures that people feel they would need to help them and their families adjust to life without single-use plastic shopping bags.


How will I get my shopping home if I forget my bags?

We are proposing to give people a long lead in so that they have time to adjust to reusable bags along with retailers who have yet to make the change.

Most supermarkets already offer low-cost reusable bags and some provide used cardboard boxes at no charge.


How much of a problem is single use plastic in New Zealand?

The majority of plastics used here and around the world are durable and long-lasting, and the accumulation of plastic in marine environments and potentially the human food chain has become a major global issue.

Scientists estimate that there are over 150 million tonnes of plastics in the world’s oceans today. If nothing changes then it is projected that plastic in oceans will weigh more than all the fish that live in them by 2050.

A survey of New Zealand beaches, harbours and estuaries found microplastics in eight out of 10 samples. In its local litter clean-ups, Sustainable Coastlines has found that the five most common items picked up are plastic. These include: pieces of plastic (mixed sources), food wrappers, bottle caps and lids, plastic bags, and polystyrene/foam.

The adverse impacts of plastic waste on marine species such as seabirds, turtles, whales, seals and fish have been well documented in New Zealand and around the world.


What is the Government doing about other single use plastics?

Globally and here in New Zealand, businesses are already taking action to reduce their use of single use plastics – not only plastic bags but plastic packaging and items such as plastic straws and plastic-stemmed cotton buds. New Zealanders can call on the stores, brands and food outlets they buy from to take further action and use their buying power to ‘vote with their wallets’.

Recently the Government has brought together 13 local and multi-national companies to sign the New Zealand Plastic Packaging Declaration, in which they have committed to use 100 per cent reusable, recyclable or compostable packaging in their New Zealand operations by 2025 or earlier.

More broadly, the Government is working with councils and industry to find ways to ensure the products we produce and consume are designed to be reused, recycled into something new, or composted after use. This supports New Zealand’s transition to a ‘circular economy’ where the aim is that no resources are sent to landfill or pollute the environment. Part of this is ensuring we have the right processing facilities here in New Zealand, and we’re using funds from the Waste Minimisation Fund to invest in industry initiatives that will support this.



Quick questionnaire

Alternative ways to make your submission

Either email this submission to
(Microsoft Word document (2003 or later) or PDF)

or post to

Ministry for the Environment
PO Box 10362
Wellington, 6143.

In your submission please include: your name or organisation’s name, your email, or postal address.