Formerly New Zealand's High Commissioner to the Cook Islands and MP for the Northland Electorate of New Zealand.


Moving forward together

Thursday 16 August 2018

Tackling plastic

Last week the government announced plans to phase out single-use plastic bags in New Zealand within 12 months. We will join over 100 other countries that have already banned single-use bags, including China, Indonesia, parts of Europe, and much of Australia.

A key reason for the proposal is the harm plastics are causing our environment, particularly our marine environment. Scientists estimate there is already over 150 million tonnes of plastic in our oceans with growing evidence this is decimating marine and bird life, and also entering the food chain. Far North residents are right to be concerned about this. We love our beaches, our warm seas and our kai moana. For many of us, it is why we live in the Far North.

Like most councils around the country, we supported a Local Government New Zealand remit earlier this year asking the government to develop and implement a plan to eliminate single-use plastic bags and plastic straws. I am very happy these efforts, plus the countless letters and emails sent directly to the government by concerned New Zealanders, have led to this announcement.

Phasing out single-use plastic bags is only a first step. As a nation we are one of the highest per capita producers of urban waste in the developed world. Much of that is plastic and around 79 per cent of it is going into landfills rather than being recycled. Nearly half of the plastic waste we generate is packaging, such as drink bottles.

That's why the Council also supports calls for a Container Deposit Scheme. It is estimated that New Zealanders use around 2 billion plastic and glass drink containers each year. A lot ends up in landfills, but too many are dumped along roadsides and eventually make it into the sea. Putting a refundable charge on every container sold will encourage consumers to recycle containers instead. That's good news for the environment and for ratepayers. Anything that reduces the total amount of waste we send to landfills will save us all money.

But even that is only part of the solution. China, New Zealand's biggest buyer of recyclable waste, has now stopped taking 24 types of recycling from overseas. The Far North has not been directly impacted by this yet, but the message is clear: we must dramatically reduce consumption of non-reusable plastics.

Government will be part of the solution, but we all have a role reducing demand for single-use plastics. Kaitaia Library is showing us how. Rather than use plastic bags for borrowed books, members are being offered cloth bags sewn from old t-shirts by volunteers at the EcoCentre Kaitaia (Te Whare Tiaka Taiao). The scheme has been running for a few months now with bags replenished as required and paid for by koha. Library users elsewhere in the district will also soon be offered reusable book bags at $5 each. It's a small price to pay to save our environment.



My Columns
Media Reports
Photo Gallery
Press Releases