Get­ting rid of plas­tic bags

The Southland Times - - COMMENT&OPINION -

their use. Food­stuffs, for ex­am­ple, had to aban­don a 5c bag levy it im­posed in 2009 after a cus­tomer re­volt. But when it re­cently asked cus­tomers to pick be­tween var­i­ous levies or no charge, many protested that it should have in­cluded the op­tion of a ban.

This is a fas­ci­nat­ing case where the cus­tomers seem to be lead­ing the com­mer­cial in­ter­ests in an ecofriendly di­rec­tion. Partly as a re­sult, per­haps, there is now a kind of com­pe­ti­tion be­tween the two chains to do the right thing, with Countdown do­ing rather bet­ter than Food­stuffs.

We seem to be en­ter­ing an age when the com­mer­cial ad­van­tages of going green are be­com­ing more and more ob­vi­ous.

Cus­tomers are not only ahead of the companies, it seems: they are miles ahead of the National-led Gov­ern­ment, which has been slow to move on this is­sue. But the move­ment to­wards the green econ­omy con­tin­ues in any case. The move to ban plas­tic bags also points to fur­ther prob­lems that need a green so­lu­tion.

The su­per­mar­kets them­selves now con­cede that the gen­eral prob­lem of plas­tic pack­ag­ing re­quires at­ten­tion. We have grown used to elab­o­rate, ex­pen­sive, and eco-un­friendly pack­ag­ing of nearly all kinds of food, just as we used to take it for granted that a trip to the su­per­mar­ket re­quired the rou­tine use of plas­tic bags to carry the stuff back home.

Lo­cal Gov­ern­ment New Zealand also points out the su­per­mar­kets are not the only re­tail­ers us­ing plas­tic bags, and ac­tion needs to be taken on a wider front. Pres­i­dent Dave Cull calls for a com­pul­sory levy on these bags, and sug­gests it won’t hap­pen with­out gov­ern­ment ac­tion.

There is also an is­sue of fair­ness. Any so­lu­tion to plas­tic bags should apply to all re­tail­ers, says Re­tail New Zealand gen­eral man­ager Greg Har­ford, and not just be left to the su­per­mar­kets. All of this in turn is lead­ing to a re­think­ing by peo­ple about their per­sonal re­spon­si­bil­i­ties to the en­vi­ron­ment. If we have con­ceded that it’s no longer okay to use plas­tic bags at the su­per­mar­ket or else­where, what else do we need to change about our life­styles?

The call to a more sus­tain­able econ­omy is spread­ing, and more and more peo­ple are heed­ing it. That looks like progress brought about by peo­ple mak­ing their own choices rather than leav­ing it to the gov­ern­ment.

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