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August 20, 2018 | by  | in News |
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It’s a Bad Year to be a Plastic Bag in New Zealand

On 10 August, Jacinda Ardern and Eugenie Sage announced that single use plastic bags will be phased out over the next year. Over 40 countries around the world have restrictions or taxes on plastic bag use.
Plastic bags are often replaced by paper bags or cloth bags. However, there are environmental consequences for these seemingly conscious alternatives. Paper bags degrade easily, but require about four times as much energy to make. Cotton bags are effective, but cotton production is linked to heavy water and pesticide use, which causes problems in countries where it is grown. Polypropylene bags, made from a heavier kind of plastic stamped with a fabric texture, take more energy to produce and don’t degrade naturally.
Currently, many shops offer “compostable” or “biodegradable” plastic bags. However, these bags need specific conditions, like the high temperatures of a commercial biodegrader, to break down, and so will often end up in landfill anyway.
Before the ban was announced, New Zealand’s major supermarkets made steps to eliminate plastic bags. After a successful trial period earlier this year, one third of Countdown stores have become plastic free as of 13 August. They offer a number of alternatives at their stores: an affordable 15 cent bag for emergencies when someone can’t afford the $1 “Bag for Good”, or the jute and chiller bags also available for purchase at their stores. Since beginning the trial of 10 stores without single use plastic bags, Countdown estimates that 4.2 million bags have been prevented from entering the environment.
Foodstuffs, which owns New World, Pak‘nSave, Four Square, and Liquorland, is embarking on a similar project.

“Our focus is 100% on reusable bags, and we’ve done a lot to encourage customers to remember to bring them when they shop with us,” the external relations manager Sue Hamilton said. Foodstuffs estimates that by the end of this year, their reduction campaign and bans will have kept 350 million bags out of the environment.
Some people are concerned that the plastic bag ban will increase the likelihood of cross-contamination for people with severe food allergies. Mark Dixon, chief executive of Allergy New Zealand, said that this is “potentially” a greater risk, particularly for food bought in bulk, rather than prepackaged. “A [plastic bag] ban means other means of raw food separation need to be offered,” he said.
But Petra Fleming, a VUW student who is coeliac and has a number of other severe allergies, thinks the absence of plastic bags will force people to take “proper bags and packaging” more seriously.
“We can’t possibly know if a customer has severe allergies unless they advise us but believe that if they keep their own bags in good order this will reduce any potential contamination,” said Hamilton.
While the single use plastic bag ban is good news for the environment, there is still a great deal of single use packaging on products, much of which is currently not recyclable.
“We’re also encouraging our suppliers to work with us and to drive change in their own brands,” said Kiri Hannifin, Countdown’s Manager of General Corporate Affairs.
Countdown has removed 70 tonnes of packaging from their produce section, such as plastic around bananas. Meanwhile, Foodstuffs has committed to 100% recyclable or reusable packaging for their private brands, Pams and Value.

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