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Plastic bag ban: What it means

The phase-out of plastic bags aims to stop them ending up in landfill or polluting waterways, and as of today, they can no longer be offered by businesses.

From today, businesses can no longer give you single-use plastic bags – including 'emergency' bags offered by some supermarkets, thicker plastic bags offered by some retailers, biodegradable bags and compostable bags.

Kiwis go through about 750 million plastic bags a year – 154 bags per person per year – and on average, are used for less than 12 minutes each.  

The Government has approved a ban on the sale and distribution of single-use plastic shopping bags, made of any type of plastic less than 70 microns in thickness, effective from 1 July 2019. 

Compostable, plant-based bags and biodegradable bags are included in the ban because New Zealand lacks the facilities to break them down into substances that are safe for nature, and home compost bins are rarely set up with the right conditions to break down the bags properly. They also don't encourage the uptake of reusable options, according to Ministry for the Environment (MfE).

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Mainstream supermarkets have already made the change away from single-use plastic shopping bags and report that this has stopped tens of millions of bags being handed out for as little as 10 minutes use each. Businesses were given six months ahead of the ban to phase them out.

The transition to get more consumers using reusable bags has been effective: According to MfE research, in April 2018, 56 percent of shoppers brought reusable bags; in September 2018, that increased to 91 percent.

Associate Environment Minister Eugenie Sage says it's one step to tackling New Zealand's waste issues. 

“The ban should ensure less plastic ends up in rivers, streams, stormwater systems and the ocean so seabirds, fish, turtles, and marine mammals are less vulnerable to being harmed by it.”

The following bags are not included in the ban:

  • Bin liners/rubbish bags 
  • Bags for collecting pet waste or nappies
  • Barrier bags used when purchasing meat, and fruit and vegetables.  

Also, plastic packaging is not included in the ban, e.g. bread bags.

July 1 also marks the start of Plastic-Free July, a global movement to refuse single-use plastics.

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