Ecoware's thoughts on NZ’s plastic bag ban
In two months, lightweight plastic checkout bags in New Zealand will be a thing of the past. Here is a summary of the legislation:
- The ban doesn’t include bags thicker than 70 microns
- Retail shopping bags with handles are included in the ban
- Certified compostable bags within the limits mentioned above are included in the ban
- It doesn’t include lightweight bags used for packaging uncooked meat and fish
- Effective July 1st 2019
More guidance around the ban is yet to be released this month, but overseas examples suggest that legislative action has a positive impact. For example, San Francisco banned plastic bags in 2007. According to the San Francisco Department of the Environment, they have seen a 72% reduction in plastic bag pollution since 2010. Their ordinance excluded single-use compostable plastic bags labelled with a certification logo, but they applied a 10¢ fee on compostable or recycled paper bags purchased at the checkout to encourage reusable bags. 1
Australia’s plastic checkout bag ban came into effect in 2018. Within 3 months, their two largest supermarkets prevented approximately 1.5 billion bags from entering the environment. Compostable biodegradable bags made of plant starch (not plastic) that have been certified to Australian Standard AS 4736-2006 are also excluded from the ban.2
We are proud of our Prime Minister for recognising the moral and environmental urgency in taking legislative action against single-use plastic. However, we are disappointed with the short-sightedness around the role composting plays in a circular economy. The mandatory phase-out includes certified compostable bags based on the reasoning that Kiwis lack the ability to compost and recycle them efficiently.
“New Zealand does not yet have the nationwide infrastructure to ensure that biodegradable, oxo-degradable and compostable plastics are collected and delivered to the appropriate processing environment to completely break down into substances that are safe for nature. In addition, not everyone has a home compost bin and those that do are rarely set up with the capacity to process all the compostable bags that they may bring home from shopping." 3
One statement here is correct: we do not have consistent and readily accessible nationwide infrastructure to process compostable packaging. Instead, we have a random map of arbitrary facilities that accept compostable packaging in New Zealand. The map only exists because these commercial and community facilities have taken matters into their own hands, implementing unique systems to allow for the processing of compostable packaging - for which, we are very thankful.
The lack of infrastructure reflects general tardiness towards developing composting - something we believe the Government should prioritise. A sustainable solution already exists: certified compostable products made from plants, which is rapidly developing to service greater markets and more product categories. This is the future of packaging.
Compostable packaging is being routinely composted around the world, but we fall short due to the lack of concurrent development of infrastructure. Since conception, our ethos has been that sustainability is an on-going journey. Nothing will change overnight, but it’s imperative that we start somewhere to get anywhere.
It is also correct that not everyone has a compost bin, but the statement that not everyone will have the capacity to compost all the bags they bring home is, again, frustrating. Home composting should be strongly encouraged wherever possible, as it facilitates the diversion of organic waste from landfill, mitigating a substantial environmental issue in New Zealand, and will encourage a shift in the perception of waste disposal; giving trash a new meaning. Composting at home presents a real example of a circular economy in your very home.
New Zealand’s mandatory phase-out of plastic bags means that we will be discontinuing our certified home and commercially compostable checkout bag. Our bags, if in Australia, would not be included. Regardless, we are still able to supply customers with a range of compostable bin liners and paper bags. These products will continue to be available on our website, and our goal is to make the transition away from compostable checkout bags as smooth as possible. Custom branding options are available, and we are able to produce compostable bags for you within the legal parameters. So please do reach out if you would like to explore this option for your business.
Ideally, the Government would support a framework that, first and foremost, encourages reusable bags, with compostable and/or recyclable alternatives available as a backstop, perhaps with a small charge. Many solutions are working towards the same goal: the crusade against plastic, but no single one will conquer on its own. It is only with a combination of solutions will we see progress.
“Shifting the system involves everyone and everything: businesses, governments, and individuals; our cities, our products, and our jobs. By designing out waste and pollution, keeping products and materials in use, and regenerating natural systems, we can reinvent everything.” 4
- S. San Fransico Department for the Environment, (2019). Checkout Bag Ordinance. Retrieved from https://sfenvironment.org/checkout-bag-ordinance
- Australia Government - Environment, Planning and Sustainable Development Directorate, (2018). Which plastic bags are banned and which are allowed? Retrieved from https://www.environment.act.gov.au/waste/plastic-bag-ban/which-bags-are-banned-and-which-are-allowed
- NZ Ministry for the Environment, (2019). Single-use plastic shopping bags: Single-use plastic shopping bags to be phased out. Retrieved from https://www.mfe.govt.nz/consultation/plasticshoppingbags
- Ellen MacArthur Foundation, (2019). What is the circular economy? Retrieved from https://www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/circular-economy/what-is-the-circular-economy