Report by NewsroomPlus.com

They were first patented in 1965, but really only gained popularity in the mid 1980’s.

Now there are between 500 billion and 1 trillion produced annually and New Zealanders uses approximately 1 billion of them each year. Yet only around 5% are recycled. Most are simply discarded with billions ending up in the world’s oceans, where it is a major killer of ocean life. This is the seemingly humble plastic bag.

There is a movement in New Zealand at the moment to try and limit the use of single use plastic bags.

Flickr User: Andrew

One of the people spearheading this movement is Green Party MP Denise Roche, who is currently meeting with people up and down the country as part of Plastic-free July to bring awareness to the issue and to discuss what can be done to help reduce the use of plastic bags in New Zealand.

Last night was the 20th of 28 of these meetings, and was held in the Te Aro community centre in Wellington where a group of around 20 individuals turned up.

Denise opened by discussing many of the facts and figures to do with plastic bag use. These included:

  • That an estimated 5.75 trillion pieces of plastic enter the world’s oceans each year.
  • New Zealanders use approximately 1 billion plastic bags each year.
  • The average plastic bag is only used for 12 minutes before it is discarded.
  • Several countries have already banned or restricted plastic bag use – these include Rwanda and Bangladesh.
  • Golden Bay managed to go plastic bag free in 2005 but relapsed in 2008.

The movement does have a lot of support from retailers, local councils and the general community. Many of the major supermarkets are against the idea of voluntary regulation because it would disadvantage those companies that would first pick up the idea. They say that they are in favour of government regulation so that there is no disadvantage to individual businesses.

Several businesses have already put in place schemes that limit the use of plastic bags. Pak’nSave charges 10 cents a bag and Moore Wilson offers cardboards boxes instead. The Warehouse has put in place a scheme to allow people to drop off their used plastic bags for recycling. All these measures are proving to be effective but it was stressed by Denise that the best way to reduce use would be through regulation.

Many local councils are backing the idea because plastic bags can cause the blocking of storm water drains that then causes flooding, and are a general eyesore around their districts.

The majority of the push-back comes from other major users and the plastics industry; these include Coca-Cola who believe that the safe disposal of the plastic used in their products comes down to the user rather than them. ‘

Other people who are against regulation include the Minister for the Environment Simon Bridges who says that any regulation should be voluntary rather than parliamentary.

Denise says she is planning to put forward a private member’s bill to try to bring regulation, but said that there are many things that the ordinary person can do to help reduce the amount of plastic bags used meanwhile.

So the next time you’re shopping why not use reusable bags, and if the figures above concern you why not try to convince local businesses to promote wider use of reuseable bags, with plastic bags only as an alternative.

Selwyn Manning, BCS (Hons.) MCS (Hons.) is an investigative political journalist with 23 years media experience. He specializes in reportage and analysis of socioeconomics, politics, foreign affairs, and security/intelligence issues. Selwyn has extensive experience as a commentator and has provided live political analysis to a wide range of television and radio organizations broadcasting in New Zealand, Australia and globally including the BBC (Five Live, London) and BBC (World Service). He is currently a correspondent to Australia's FiveAA radio, and is a regular live-on-air panelist on Radio New Zealand's The Panel with broadcaster Jim Mora.