No argument against a plastic bag levy: so why no action?

Wellington City Council spends tens of thousands of dollars on dealing with plastic bags every year. Last year, the council spent $20,000 alone on fences to catch bags being blown from landfills.

It’s then not surprising why Wellington, Auckland, Dunedin, and many others, have loudly called for the introduction of a plastic bag levy.

They’re not out of touch either. A 2016 report by WasteMINZ showed that around two thirds of New Zealanders support a levy if charities benefit.

With so much support for the policy, why is the government dragging it’s feet?

Environment Minister Nick Smith is reported as claiming such a levy is a waste of time, as plastic bags are only 1.5% of rubbish. However, this ignores the high costs forced onto district councils, and by extension New Zealand ratepayers.

Since then, the minister has delegated this issue to the associate minister, Scott Simpson, who’d rather spend more money on national recycling programs than commit to actually decreasing wasteful consumption.

Simpson doesn’t believe local government, who bear the brunt of the issue, should have any power over the issue. Really, he doesn’t believe anyone should have any power over it, as he also thinks manufacturers and retailers should come to some kind of “broad agreement”.

That, of course, never happens.

Around the world, other countries have proven such a levy is effective and worthwhile. In 2015, England instituted a 5p (~10c) levy on plastic bags, leading to a giant 85% reduction is plastic bag usage. This would bring Nick Smith’s 1.5% figure down to just 0.225%.

Last year, Samuel Marsden Collegiate School campaigned for a levy, to little success, despite the large number of signatures their petition received. This year, Nelson College for Girls is doing the same. Let’s hope they have success.

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