Fantastic Not Plastic

Fantastic news this week – and congratulations to the Mayor and Thames-Coromandel District Council who have joined a mayoral campaign to support a point of sale levy on “single-use” plastic bags.  The campaign has been spearheaded by Wellington Mayor Justin Lester and has the support of over half of the councils around New Zealand.

The levy is based on similar successful schemes overseas.  Last year, the United Kingdom government imposed a 5p (9c) levy on plastic bags, and money collected must go to charities. The move has led to an 85 percent reduction in plastic bag use and raised £29m ($52.3m) for charity in six months.

The levy would nicely complement local initiatives to encourage the use of paper or cloth shopping bags.  A handful of Thames businesses have already stopped using plastic bags, and the organisers of the Grahamstown Saturday market in Thames have imposed a ban on the use of plastic bags at the market.  Teams of volunteers in Whitianga and Thames has been busy sewing cloth bags and providing these free to shoppers.

Local MP and new Associate Minister for the Environment Scott Simpson has been handed the job of what to do about plastic by his “boss” Environment Minister Nick Smith.  Dr Smith is opposed to the levy, instead supporting a voluntary soft plastic recycling scheme.  Recycling is expensive and is only part of the solution.  A levy will achieve a massive reduction in the use of the bags and goes much further.  Scott Simpson was initially also opposed to a levy but seems to have softened his stance and is now willing to consider a law change imposing a small charge.

It seems like public pressure is working.  Surveys have confirmed that a clear majority of New Zealanders favour a levy.   In 2015 16,265 people signed a Green Party petition calling on the government to phase out plastic bags.  Green Party MP Denise Roche has led the campaign for several years and has drafted a private members bill based on the successful legislation in the United Kingdom.

It has been great to see Mayor Sandra Goudie and the Council get behind this campaign led by other New Zealand mayors.  Now my fervent hope is that our Mayor and Council will be enthused to support other mayoral initiatives.  For example, a Local Government Leaders Climate Change Declaration asks that the New Zealand Government make it a priority to develop and implement an ambitious transition plan for a low carbon and resilient New Zealand.  The Local Government declaration also stresses the benefits of early action to moderate the costs of adaptation to our communities and asks Councils to outline how they will cut their own emissions.