Single-use plastic bags banned from July 1, Government confirms

The Government has confirmed that retailers will be banned from selling or giving away single-use plastic bags from July 1 next year. 

Associate Environment Minister Eugenie Sage said on Tuesday that Cabinet has agreed to the proposed regulations for a mandatory nationwide phase out of single-use plastic bags by that date. 

Ms Sage said the mandatory phase out of single-use plastic shopping bags "signals that we need to do things very differently - manufacturers, retailers and consumers all have a responsibility to reduce waste and prevent plastic pollution". 

Public consultation on the ban ran from August 10 to 14 September this year and, according to the Government, showed strong support for the proposed regulations, with 92 percent of submitters agreeing that New Zealand should ban single-use plastic bags. 

It will apply to all new plastic shopping bags with handles that are made of plastic up to 70 microns in thickness. This includes light-weight supermarket bags, heavier boutique-style shopping bags and the 'emergency' bags currently offered by some supermarkets as an alternative to a free single-use bag. 

The ban will also include bags fitting this description made of degradable plastic, such as biodegradable, compostable and oxy-degradable bags, regardless of whether the plastic material is sourced from fossil-fuel, synthetic compounds or from biological sources such as plants.

The Government has acknowledged that completely getting rid of plastic bags won't be easy for all retailers, with Ms Sage saying last month it will be 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," she said at the time. 

Smaller supermarkets could struggle to keep up with the ban in the same way large supermarkets can, which have more money to put towards coming up with sustainable alternatives. Several smaller supermarkets told Newshub in July that it will be challenging.  

But Ms Sage says it's all part of the Government's programme to reduce waste and build the foundations for New Zealand's transition to a 'circular economy' approach, where eventually waste will be designed out of the system.

The programme involves "expanding the waste disposal levy to all landfills and improving our data on waste and resource recovery, investing more strategically in infrastructure and innovation, and a greater focus on product stewardship for problematic waste streams such as vehicle tyres and e-waste".

Information about the ban on single-use plastic bags in New Zealand can be found on the Ministry for the Environment's website.