Single-use plastic shopping bags to be phased out
Associate Minister for the Environment Eugenie Sage has confirmed that single-use plastic shopping bags will be phased out with regulations intended to come into force by 1 July 2019.
New Zealanders are overwhelmingly behind the phase out. Recently, 92 per cent of the more than 9,300 people and organisations who had their say in our consultation supported a mandatory phase out.
Single-use plastic shopping bags under 70 microns will be included in the phase out, with the exception of lightweight bags made of synthetic fabric and designed for multiple use over a long life. Degradable plastic bags such as oxo-degradable, biodegradable and compostable are also being phased out.
The Government has announced its intention to make regulations phasing out single-use plastic shopping bags, to come into effect around the middle of 2019. The following FAQs provide details on this phase out for New Zealanders and retailers.
What type of plastic bags will the proposed phase out include?
When we say ‘single-use plastic shopping bag’ we mean the kind of plastic bags with handles commonly found at supermarket, takeaway food, and other retail checkouts.
Bin liners, bags for collecting pet waste and barrier bags used when purchasing meat and fruit and vegetables are not included in the proposed phase out (unless they have handles for the dual use of carrying sold goods).
The proposed phase out applies to single-use plastic shopping bags up to 70 microns in thickness – which includes light-weight boutique style shopping bags, and the ‘emergency’ bags currently offered by some supermarkets as an alternative to a free single-use bags. It also includes degradable plastic bags (i.e. biodegradable, compostable and oxo-degradable). Lightweight bags made of synthetic fabric and designed for multiple use over a long life are excluded.
What can I use to carry my goods home?
Most major retailers already supply low-cost reusable bags for purchase. Retailers may also consider providing cardboard boxes to help their customers as they adjust to the transition – however this is up to each retailer.
Alternatives to single-use plastic shopping bags include long-life reusable bags in heavier-duty plastic, composite bags of hessian with other materials, and long-lasting bags made of lightweight nylon, cotton, recycled fabric or jute. Paper shopping bags remain an option for retailers although the Ministry is encouraging a move away from single-use options (no matter the material).
Shoppers can also bring their own wheeled trolley bags, backpacks and home-made bags.
I’m a retailer – what if I have plastic bag stock remaining once the phase out takes effect?
It is proposed that all retailers will have six months to use up existing stock before the regulations take effect.
Unused new bags are good clean feedstock for recycling and local recyclers and plastics manufacturers may be able to assist. We strongly recommend against sending surplus bags to landfill.
Why are biodegradable and compostable bags included in the proposed phase out?
The proposed phase out includes “biodegradable”, “oxo-degradable” and “compostable” bags. These are all types of degradable plastics.
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 safely. 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 necessarily in water or the ocean for example.
Further, these bags are still single-use, and we want consumers to move to multi-use options that can offer a more efficient use of resources over time.