Plastic bags likely to be gone by July

Plastic bags will soon be a thing of the past in New Zealand.

Shopping bags under 70 microns thick will be completely phased out over the next six months, the Government has announced.

That will cover most plastic bags used by retailers, including some of the thicker types.

The exact date will be confirmed when Cabinet meets in January, says Associate Environment Minister Eugenie Sage, but it's likely to be by July.

A five-week consultation process on the ban, signalled earlier this year, found 92 percent of submitters in favour.

Ms Sage says good habits are already forming.

"New Zealanders are increasingly recognising they can be part of the solution to marine plastic pollution, rather than part of the problem."

Nearly 80 percent of all submitters favoured banning even the thicker plastic bags, and 70 percent wanted them all gone within six months. All-up, New Zealanders reportedly currently use about 1 billion a year.

She's also praising major retailers for getting the ball rolling.

"Significant work has been done by some leading retailers. Some of the supermarkets are phasing out plastic bags already… I think they have led by example."

Ms Sage says 50 percent of shoppers already take reusable bags.

But phasing out plastic bags may be easier said than done for some retailers. Ms Eugenie Sage admits some may find it difficult.

"I think it is a challenge for the importers of plastic bags. We import 15 million annually - that's why there's a six-month implementation time, to give them a chance to run down stocks."

But Ms Sage says it needs to happen to protect our marine life.

Research has shown reusable bags need to be used many times before their impact on the environment can be considered less than plastic.