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New Zealand will ban single-use plastic bags over the next year, the government has announced.
Retailers in the country will be given six months to stop providing lightweight plastic bags, or face fines of up to NZ$100,000 (US$66,000).
“We’re phasing out single-use plastic bags so we can better look after our environment and safeguard New Zealand’s clean, green reputation,” said Jacinda Ardern, the prime minister.
“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 for consumers and business.”
Ardern said it was clear that New Zealanders wanted action to be taken on this problem, citing a petition signed by 65,000 people who called for a ban.
“It’s also the biggest single subject schoolchildren write to me about,” she said.
New Zealand has one of the highest rates of urban waste production per capita in the developed world, with 750m plastic shopping bags, roughly 154 per person, used each year.
Both of New Zealand’s major supermarket chains and several large retailers in the country have already said they will eliminate single-use bags by the end of 2018.
Details of the ban were not announced, with Ardern saying they would be discussed over the next month. She invited people to contact the government to share their views by 14 September about what date the phase-out should come into effect and how the government can help people with the transition.
Simon Bridges, leader of the opposition in New Zealand, accused the government of focusing on “low-hanging fruit that won’t make any real difference”.
“Measures introduced by the previous government alongside industry would already have seen a more than 75% reduction in plastic bag use without new regulations and higher costs,” he said.
“Kiwis were reducing their plastic usage because it’s the right thing to do. They didn’t need to be told what to do by a government increasingly looking like it thinks it knows best.”
Globally more than 40 countries have banned plastic bags. The UN reports that the first to do so was Bangladesh in 2002. South Africa banned plastic bags in 2003, after declaring plastic bags had become so prolific around the country, they were their “national flower”. The government announced hefty fines and even jail terms for their continued use.
The debate recently flared up in Australia, where most states and territories have banned single-use plastic bags. Australia’s two major supermarket chains, Coles and Woolworths, announced that they would ban plastic bags nationally and stop providing single-use bags by the end of June. After a negative response Coles backflipped and said it would continuing handing out plastic bags for free. Following outcry the company reversed its decision and reverted to the original plan.
SOURCE: THE GUARDIAN/PACNEWS
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