In her first week back at work, New Zealand’s prime minister Jacinda Ardern has announced the phasing out of single-use plastic bags, revealing it was the “biggest single subject” school children wrote to her about.
Following Australia’s push to ban the bags across the major supermarket chains in recent months, Ms Ardern and her Associate Environment Minister Eugenie Sage said in a joint statement on Friday they were listening to New Zealanders “who want us to take action”.
New Zealand has one of the highest per-capita rates of urban waste production in the developed world with about 750 million plastic shopping bags – 154 per person – used every year.
“This year 65,000 Kiwis signed a petition calling for an outright ban. It’s also the biggest single subject school children write to me about,” Ms Ardern said.
“Every year in New Zealand we use hundreds of millions of single-use plastic bags – a mountain of bags, many of which end up polluting our precious coastal and marine environments and cause serious harm to all kinds of marine life.”
“And all of this when there are viable alternatives.”
“It’s great that many people are already changing the way they shop. But it’s important we take the time now to get this right,” she said.
Retailers will now be given a phase-out period of at least six months to stop providing light-weight bags, with fines up to $NZ100,000 ($89,621) being proposed, the statement read.
Fantastic news this morning as the government phases out single use plastic bags over the next 12 months. Per capita, NZ is one of the highest producers of urban waste in the developed world, with single-use plastic bags being one of the top five items found in coastal litter. pic.twitter.com/uYoYCJzZPq
— Project Jonah (@ProjectJonah) August 9, 2018
Both major supermarket chains and several large Kiwi retailers have already announced they’ll eliminate single-use bags by year’s end.
More than 100,000 people have also signed petitions for a ban in recent years.
Ms Sage said many countries and major cities around the world have successfully taken action on plastic pollution in recent years. She was confident New Zealanders would also embrace the change.
“Public calls for action have encouraged a significant number of retailers, including supermarkets, to move on single-use plastic bags.”
“We want to support their efforts by ensuring the retail industry moves together in a fair and effective way,” she said..
The details of the plan will be discussed over the next month.
Currently, all Australian states and territories except NSW have moved towards a ban.
The NSW government faced fresh calls to follow after Coles this month backflipped twice on its position.
Globally, there’s 103 jurisdictions that have outright bans, while 41 have levies on lightweight bags.