Regulations banning single-use plastic bags officially came into force from 1 July 2019 under the Waste Minimisation (Plastic Shopping Bags) Regulations 2018.
The ban was decided in December last year, and applies to plastic bags which are:
- new or unused
- with handles
- under 70 microns in thickness
- for the purpose of carrying or distributing sold goods.
As well as standard shopping bags, the ban includes bags made of degradable plastic, regardless of whether they’re made from fossil fuel or plants; heavier plastic bags commonly used by retailers in the apparel or homewares categories; and ‘emergency’ bags like Countdown’s 15c Use Me Again bags.
The ban applies to consumer and B2B sales, online sales, for-profit and not-for-profit organisations, and retailers of every size from produce markets to department stores.
It does not apply to ‘barrier bags’ without handles for meat, fruit and vegetables offered in-store. Also excluded are bags which form part of a product’s packaging, such as pouches for cooked chicken, bin liners or rubbish bags, and bags for pet waste.
Many larger retailers chose to phase out plastic bags from their operations early. Countdown, Foodstuffs and The Warehouse Group all stopped offering single-use plastic bags by the end of 2018.
Customers are being advised to report businesses breaching the ban to the Ministry for the Environment through a form on its website. It will follow up directly with the retailer involved and can issue fines of up to $100,000 when regulations are deliberately contravened.
The Ministry has said it will encourage voluntary compliance: “In the first instance our preference is to take an educational approach and to offer advice to help businesses understand their responsibilities.”
Those with large numbers of now-banned plastic bags may be able to get help with disposal from local recycling and plastic manufacturers. The Ministry for the Environment strongly recommends against sending surplus bags to landfill, noting that the law does not prevent retailers from finding other uses for their leftover single-use plastic bags or giving them away.
Retail NZ has created a webinar sharing more information about what the ban means for retailers. You can watch it here.