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New Zealand becomes first country to ban thin plastic bags for fresh produce from supermarkets

13 July 23

Go the Kiwis - as reported by the ABC: New Zealand has become the first country to ban the thin plastic bags that supermarket customers use to collect their fruit and vegetables. 

The new ban, which starts Saturday, will also extend to plastic straws and cutlery. 

The government is expanding a campaign against single-use plastics that it started in 2019, when it banned the thicker plastic shopping bags that customers used to carry home their grocery items.

Officials estimate that on average, each New Zealander sends more than three-quarters of a ton of waste to landfills every year.

"New Zealand produces too much waste, too much plastic waste," associate environment minister Rachel Brooking said.

Lightweight plastic bags are banned in every state and territory across Australia, with some jurisdictions also banning or on track to ban plastic straws, cutlery and food and drink containers.

In Australia Coles announced in February it was abandoning its trial of reusable mesh bags in the ACT and would instead introduce compostable bags to use for fresh produce. 

Woolworths is doing away with its 15-cent plastic shopping bags in Queensland and the ACT and Coles has committed to phasing out soft-plastic shopping bags in-store and online by the end of June.

Coles and Woolworths have been served preliminary clean-up notices for more than 5,200 tonnes of stockpiled soft plastic across New South Wales that were collected by the retailers as part of their REDcycle recycling scheme for customers.

Ms Brooking said the 2019 bag ban in New Zealand had already prevented more than 1 billion plastic bags from being used, and the new ban on thin bags would add a further reduction of 150 million bags per year.

Officials investigated concerns the latest ban would not help the environment much if customers simply switched to using disposable paper bags to collect their fruit and vegetables.

"The answer was still yes, it's still worth doing this, but we really want to reduce single-use anything packaging," Ms Brooking said.

"So we want people to be bringing their own bags, and supermarkets are selling reusable produce bags."

Ms Brooking said the emphasis would be on educating people but that officials could impose penalties on businesses that chose to flaunt the rules.

The Countdown chain of supermarkets, which is part of the Woolworths Group, has begun selling polyester mesh bags that can be washed and reused.

Countdown's head of sustainability Catherine Langabeer said the mesh bags were tested to be reused up to 5,000 times each.

Countdown was working hard to get customers to think of reusable fruit-and-vegetable bags as the norm, she said.

"We know change is hard and will take them a little while," Ms Langabeer said.

"We get some grumpy customers."

She said other customers were finding creative ways to carry home their purchases without using any plastic.

Critics have questioned the liberal government's environmental record, pointing out that the nation's overall greenhouse gas emissions have not decreased since the government symbolically declared a climate emergency in 2020.



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