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.


If 'This is not New Zealand', let us show it
103768 2019-03-21 09:31:27Z Social issues

If 'This is not New Zealand', let us show it

by The Listener

The little signs among the banks of flowers said, “This is not New Zealand.” They meant, “We thought we were better than this.” We were wrong.

Read more
Extremism is not a mental illness
103785 2019-03-21 00:00:00Z Crime

Extremism is not a mental illness

by The Mental Health Foundation of NZ

Shooting people is not a symptom of a mental illness. White supremacy is not a mental illness.

Read more
PM announces ban on all military-style semi-automatic weapons and assault rifles
103805 2019-03-21 00:00:00Z Crime

PM announces ban on all military-style semi-automa…

by RNZ

Ms Ardern pledged the day after the terrorist massacre that "gun laws will change" and would be announced within 10 days of the attack.

Read more
No mention of right-wing extremist threats in 10 years of GCSB & SIS public docs
103770 2019-03-21 00:00:00Z Politics

No mention of right-wing extremist threats in 10 y…

by Jane Patterson

There is not one specific mention of the threat posed by white supremacists or right-wing nationalism in 10 years of security agency documents.

Read more
Deirdre Kent: The woman who faced down the wrath of Big Tobacco
103798 2019-03-21 00:00:00Z Profiles

Deirdre Kent: The woman who faced down the wrath o…

by Joanna Wane

As the face of anti-smoking lobby group ASH, Deirdre Kent played a vital role in the smokefree New Zealand movement.

Read more
Māori leaders say acts of terror nothing new in NZ
103766 2019-03-21 00:00:00Z Currently

Māori leaders say acts of terror nothing new in NZ…

by Leigh-Marama McLachlan

Māori leaders are calling on New Zealanders to reject the notion that 'this is not us' in the wake of the Christchurch mosque attacks.

Read more
Cynthia Millar and the strange beauty of the ondes martenot
103723 2019-03-21 00:00:00Z Music

Cynthia Millar and the strange beauty of the ondes…

by Elizabeth Kerr

The sci-fi sound of the ondes martenot is playing a key part in the upcoming performance of an epic symphony.

Read more
Christchurch gunsmith warned police about white supremacists last year
103662 2019-03-20 00:00:00Z Crime

Christchurch gunsmith warned police about white su…

by RNZ

A Canterbury gunsmith living and working says he told police less than six months ago they needed to look at the rise of white supremacists with guns.

Read more