Demand for bag levy gathers pace
Nearly half of the nation’s mayors, including Horowhenua’s Michael Feyen, have signed a letter putting pressure on central government to impose a mandatory charge on plastic bags, but the call seems to be falling on deaf ears.
Two weeks after the mayors of Wellington, Auckland and Dunedin circulated an open letter calling for local government to support a levy, the number of signatories have grown to include 28 of the country’s 67 mayors, including Christchurch Mayor Lianne Dalziel.
Meanwhile, a petition launched by a group of Wellington high school students calling for a levy has gained over 8900 signatures.
Marsden Collegiate School student Cici Davie said the group was now launching a campaign, #Bagsinthewild, in which participants took photographs of plastic bag litter and emailed them to Environment Minister Nick Smith.
‘‘We are hoping to kind of create an influx of emails to him, so that he gets a bit overwhelmed,’’ she said.
Davie said the group was inspired by two Balinese sisters whose campaigning convinced the island’s government to ban plastic bags by 2018.
In addition to these new calls, two independent surveys have shown Kiwis strongly supported a mandatory levy on single-use plastic bags.
But Associate Environment Minister Scott Simpson has maintained his stance against a legislative approach.
Wellington Mayor Justin Lester had previously pressed central government to impose a levy, or step aside and allow local authorities to do so, but the spokesman said the minister was still apposed to this.
‘‘He thinks that would just lead to a confused situation that would be uncertain and complicated. His preference would be for a voluntary nationwide process rather than heavy-handed regulation.’’
The spokesman said Simpson was setting up a working group to explore options for reduing plastic bag consumption.
The Ministry for the Environment recently came under criticism for its reliance on the Packaging Forum - an industry advocacy body - to conduct research that was then used to inform policy decisions.
During an interview conducted in the wake of the criticism, Simpson said it was not unusual to use research from the sector to inform decisions.
The ministry had recently commissioned its first piece of independent research in the area, he said.
Industry-led recycling schemes have failed to stem the tide of plastic bags entering landfill. Recent figures show the Soft Plastic Packaging Recycling Scheme collected only two per cent of the 1.6 billion plastic bags coming into the country every year.
The open letter said more action was needed, and pointed to England where a levy reduced plastic bag usage by 85 per cent within 6 months.
Lester said he was thrilled with the support shown from other leaders around the country.
Those who had not still had a few weeks before the letter was presented to Simpson.
‘‘We’ve had backing from big cities and small towns. All around the country, people see the damage to the environment done by plastic bags.’’
Nearly half of New Zealand mayors have signed an open letter calling for a plastic bag levy.