Why is New Zealand so far behind the movement to ban plastic bags?

by Venetia Sherson / 01 October, 2017
Tasty jellyfish or plastic bag?

Tasty jellyfish or plastic bag?

New Zealand lags behind in banning or reducing single-use plastic shopping bags. At least 12 countries and hundreds of states, cities and towns have outlawed them; dozens more have imposed a tax on their use.

In Rwanda – a land-locked East African country where half the population lives below the poverty line – plastic bags are confiscated at the border. Enforcement agents also cut the plastic wrapping from negligent travellers’ suitcases.

In China, where they describe the effects of discarded bags as “white pollution”, a ban on ultra-thin plastic bags was introduced in 2008. Italy, India, Tanzania, Taiwan, Uganda, Ethiopia, Botswana, Macedonia and Brazil have also imposed bag bans and restrictions. The Bangladesh government was the first to impose a ban in 2002, because of safety hazards when bags blocked drainage systems during the monsoon. 

A sign at Kigali International Airport in Rwanda, where a ban on plastic bags means they’re confiscated at the border.

All these countries have one up on New Zealand, where – despite various attempts – no laws have been passed to ban or charge for single-use bags. Closer to home, plastic bags are banned South Australia, Tasmania, the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory.

In the United States, there is no national ban, but California – the state that has defied President Donald Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris climate accord – voted in November last year to ban plastic bags state-wide. Many US towns have independently imposed their own bans.

In Europe, the European Parliament passed a directive in 2014 to reduce plastic-bag use by half by the end of this year, and by 80 per cent by 2019. Italy has banned the distribution of lightweight plastic bags not from biodegradable sources; France has banned bags under 50 microns. The Netherlands implemented a ban last year but exempted bags used for food products, such as fresh fruit.    

Plenty of other places have chosen not to ban plastic bags but to discourage their use by imposing a fee. England, Northern Ireland and Wales have a five-pence levy on all single-use bags. In the first half of 2015, when the charge was imposed in England, the number of single-use bags dropped by seven billion. Denmark, which introduced a tax in 2003, has the lowest plastic-bag use in Europe, with four bags per person a year. In countries like Portugal, Poland and Slovakia, where there is no tax, each person on average uses 466 bags a year.

However, the news isn’t all good. Nearly a decade after it imposed its ban, Rwanda is struggling to combat a lucrative black market for plastic bags.  

This was published in the September 2017 issue of North & South.

Latest

Ian McEwan confronts the biggest mysteries of life in Machines Like Me
105820 2019-05-23 00:00:00Z Books

Ian McEwan confronts the biggest mysteries of life…

by Charlotte Grimshaw

Ian McEwan’s tale of human-robot love links emotional and artificial intelligence in intriguing ways, writes Charlotte Grimshaw.

Read more
Is chemical residue on fruit and vegetables worth worrying about?
105778 2019-05-23 00:00:00Z Nutrition

Is chemical residue on fruit and vegetables worth…

by Jennifer Bowden

The chemical residues on fruit and vegetables are not dangerous, but rinsing is still advisable.

Read more
Tech Week: Tech no substitute for human kindness in healthcare
106277 2019-05-23 00:00:00Z Tech

Tech Week: Tech no substitute for human kindness i…

by Peter Griffin

A three-month trial at Christchurch Hospital saw remarkable results.

Read more
How Auckland Museum's sustainability journey began on the rooftop
106248 2019-05-23 00:00:00Z Planet

How Auckland Museum's sustainability journey began…

by Ken Downie

Until recently, the Auckland War Memorial Museum’s buildings were highly dysfunctional, says John Glen, the museum’s head of building infrastructure.

Read more
Australia's remote islands home to 414 million pieces of plastic pollution
106295 2019-05-23 00:00:00Z Planet

Australia's remote islands home to 414 million pie…

by Noted

More than 230 tonnes of plastic including straws, bags and toothbrushes found on Australian islands.

Read more
Parliament bullying: Mallard urges rape victims to seek support
What drives 'lone wolf' terrorists? And how can we prevent future attacks?
106117 2019-05-22 00:00:00Z Social issues

What drives 'lone wolf' terrorists? And how can we…

by Devon Polaschek, Maryanne Garry and Joe Burton

Violent extremists are often depicted as “lone wolves”. But this belies the broader psychological, social and digital contexts in which they act.

Read more
Counterterrorism experts on why we must engage with online extremists
106123 2019-05-22 00:00:00Z Social issues

Counterterrorism experts on why we must engage wit…

by David Hall

Seeing an NZ flag flying at a neo-fascist rally in Germany prompted David Hall to ask why violent radicalisation was affecting even his fellow Kiwis.

Read more