The ban on single-use plastic bags: good things take time

November 24, 2018

 

Rarely can I say that I was ahead of my time, but when it comes to single-use plastic bags, it may be a fair claim. Fifteen years ago, in late 2002/early 2003, I led a campaign to call on the government to ban single-use plastic bags, particularly in supermarkets - my only claim to 'activism' in my life (though of a fairly mild variety, admittedly). Oh, apart from an anti-nuclear march I organised on Hiroshima Day in the mid-1980s, while I was still at high school.  

 

The campaign got a fair reception, with TV3 news picking it up as a news story - though to be fair, probably only because it was the 'slow news' period over Christmas/New Year and they were a bit desparate!  But as their interviews with your average on-the-street shoppers demonstrate, there were plenty of people who were unconvinced. Convenience still trumped environmental concerns, though these were well-known even then, as I outline in the interview.

 

For a long time, the bureacratic response to the call for a ban on plastic bags was that 'plastic bags only comprise [pick a vanishingly small percentage figure] of the total waste stream in New Zealand'. Of course, you could say this for every category of waste in the waste stream. Yet, cumulatively each of these proportions makes up 100%, It is like the police saying we are not going to make any effort to combat X crime because it only makes up X percentage of total crime. 

 

So it is with mixed feelings I hear that Associate Minister for the Environment, Eugenie Sage, has just announced that the government will implement a ban of all single-use plastic bags within six months. This is great news, but of course, only one small step in the monumental challenge posed by the proliferation of plastic in the environment (anyone who remains unconvinced may wish to read this article about the sperm whale found dead having ingested 6 kg of plastic, including 115 drinking cups, four plastic bottles, 25 plastic bags and two jandals). On the other hand, it is saddening it took 15+ years for any action to be taken. But unfortunately, as our environmental history has proven time and again, 'good things' take time.

 

[Above: A much younger me. Screen saves from the TV3 news clip that played on the 6 o'clock news on 2 January 2003.]

 

 

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