Perception vs science
On August 10, Prime Minister Jacinda
“We’re phasing out single-use plastic bags so we can better look after our environment and safeguard New Zealand’s clean, green reputation . . . 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.”
This is at odds with a consultation document produced by the Ministry for the Environment on the banning of plastic shopping bags, which states, “We do not yet know the full nature or extent of the impacts of single-use plastic shopping bags specifically, and marine microplastics generally. The Government’s proposal takes a precautionary approach to reduce the risk of them contributing to long-term impacts on the environment and human health, as well as their wider socio-economic and cultural impacts.”
In other words, the Government wants to ban plastic shopping bags even though there is no scientific evidence of harm to our environment. So what does the consultation document say that might justify the ban? In short, nothing.
The PM also explained, “It’s great that many people are already changing the way they shop. But it’s important we take the time now to get this right so we can help all New Zealanders adjust their shopping habits.”
According to Jacinda Ardern, the best way to help New Zealanders adjust their shopping habits is to use the coercive power of the state to force them to do so through a law that forbids their use and imposes a $100,000 fine for noncompliance.
Meanwhile, according to the consultation document, New Zealanders’ use of plastic bags has decreased markedly over the last few years under the voluntary regime that is currently in place. Kiwis now use around 750 million plastic shopping bags each year, or 154 per person, less than half of the bags used in 2005. Minister for the Environment Green MP Eugenie Sage, who shared the stage with the PM for the announcement, said many countries had successfully taken action on ‘plastic pollution’ in recent years. “Public calls for action have encouraged a significant number of retailers, including supermarkets, to move on single-use plastic bags. We want to support their efforts by ensuring the retail industry moves together in a fair and effective way.”
The support the minister is so eager to give to the retail industry is a punitive prohibition regime and the threat of a $100,000 fine. The reality is that industry groups have already voluntarily embraced the goal of further reducing the use of free plastic shopping bags. Many major retailers are committed to phasing them out altogether. So with huge progress already being made, why is Labour proposing the ban? Ironically, the so-called ‘singleuse’ plastic bags are in fact typically reused by households. In comparison, there is endless plastic packaging that is not only truly single-use, but is almost impossible to open and even harder to dispose of, that most people would be happy to see replaced. But these are not the easy targets that plastic bags have become, and so are ignored by environmental zealots.
"The Government wants to ban plastic shopping bags even though there is no scientific evidence of harm to our environment."