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About the phase out of single-use plastic shopping bags

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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 in New Zealand with regulations to come into force from 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 public consultation supported a mandatory nationwide phase out.

The regulations will apply to all new plastic shopping bags with handles that are made of plastic up to 70 microns in thickness.

This includes the light-weight plastic bags commonly found at supermarket, takeaway food and other retail checkouts, as well as heavier boutique-style shopping bags and the ‘emergency’ bags currently offered by some supermarkets as an alternative to a free single-use bag.

It will also include bags fitting this description made of degradable plastic (ie. biodegradable, compostable and oxy-degradable) regardless of whether the plastic material is sourced from fossil-fuel, synthetic compounds or from biological sources such as plants.

See the Waste Minimisation (Plastic Shopping Bags) Regulations 2018 [New Zealand Legislation website]

What type of plastic bags does the 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 phase out will apply to all new plastic shopping bags with handles that are made of plastic up to 70 microns in thickness. This includes the light-weight plastic bags commonly found at supermarket, takeaway food and other retail checkouts, as well as heavier boutique-style shopping bags and the ‘emergency’ bags currently offered by some supermarkets as an alternative to a free single-use bag. It will also include bags fitting this description made of degradable plastic (ie, biodegradable, compostable and oxy-degradable) regardless of whether the plastic material is sourced from fossil-fuel, synthetic compounds or from biological sources such as plants.

See images of bags included in the phase out 

What can I use to carry my goods home now?

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.

Won’t people stockpile bags before the regulations take effect for bin liners etc?

This is about transitioning to reusable bags over time. It will be a quicker shift for some people to make than others which is why we have factored in six months for people to adjust. 

Many New Zealanders are already getting behind this change and we’ve already seen people adjust to mandatory phase outs of plastic bags in a number of countries, states and cities overseas. 

Recent research commissioned by the Ministry for the Environment found that 50 per cent of New Zealanders say they ‘always’ bring reusable bags when shopping.

This toolkit for businesses provides practical guidance on the upcoming ban on single-use plastic shopping bags. 

The toolkit has:

  • facts for businesses on the ban
  • how to answer customer questions on the ban
  • suggested alternatives to single-use plastic shopping bags for different types of businesses 
  • environmental pros and cons of alternatives to single-use plastic shopping bags
  • questions to ask your bag supplier when deciding on alternative options.

See the toolkit