New Zealand’s government has announced a country-wide ban on all lightweight, single-use plastic bags in an attempt to reduce the amount of plastic pollution making its way into the surrounding marine environment, reports The Guardian.
Retailers in the country are given six months to stop providing plastic bags to customers or they will face a fine of NZ$100,000 (roughly US$66,000).
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern stressed the importance of taking action on the issue.
“We’re phasing out single-use plastic bags so we can better look after our environment and safeguard New Zealand’s clean, green reputation. Every year in New Zealand we use hundreds of millions of single-use plastic bags. A mountain of bags, many of which end up polluting our precious coastal and marine environments and cause serious harm to all kinds of marine life, and all of this when there are viable alternatives for consumers and business.”
Ardern also commented that plastic pollution is one of the main subjects schoolchildren write to her about. When she made the announcement about the ban, she had three children read aloud their letters requesting the government to take action against the plastic pollution before leading them off to help clean up the beach.
Additionally, 65,000 people recently signed a petition asking for a ban on plastic bags. The Guardian also reports that New Zealand is one of the developed countries with the most waste production per capita in the world, using around 750 million plastic bags a year. This amounts to a staggering number of roughly 154 per person annually.
Details of the ban have yet to be released but both of New Zealand’s biggest supermarket chains and several other large retailers are committed to the ban, promising to eliminate plastic bags by the end of the year. Ardern also urged citizens to contact the government to provide ideas for how they can best make the transition.
Despite the overwhelming support for the ban, it was also met with opposition. The leader of the opposition, Simon Bridges, criticized the government, claiming they were centering their focus on “low-hanging fruit that won’t make any real difference,” writes The Guardian.
“Kiwis were reducing their plastic usage because it’s the right thing to do. They didn’t need to be told what to do by a government increasingly looking like it thinks it knows best,” he continued.
New Zealand isn’t the first nation to ban plastic bags. It follows on the heels of 40 other countries that have implemented similar bans, including Bangladesh and South Africa. In Australia, most states and territories have also banned single-use plastic bags.
Arden reported that she underestimated the impact of plastics on the environment and was surprised by how strongly New Zealanders felt about the issue, according to The New York Times.
“I can hand-on-heart tell you that the biggest issue I get letters on, from the public, are about plastics, and it comes from children. I literally get hundreds and hundreds. And that really stood out to me from the time I took on this job,” Arden told reporters.