The first day of July has a special significance, though I tend to wonder of anyone really noticed. That was the official date that noted the banning of single-use plastic shopping bags and applies to any type of plastic less than 70 microns in thickness, new or unused, has carry handles, is provided for carrying sold goods, and is made of bio-based materials like starch. It also covers bags made of plastics that are degradable, biodegradable or oxo-degradable.
Who among us knows what these terms mean? For example, oxo-degradable, in scientific terms, is the ‘degradation resulting from oxidative and cell-mediated phenomena, either simultaneously or successively’. Do you see what I mean? Frankly I’d just rather stow my few groceries in a plastic bag – any plastic bag – and walk quietly home.The typical type of bags banned are those offered at supermarkets and stores. The yellow Pak ‘n Save bags measure about 35 microns, while those from clothing or department stores are between 50 and 70 microns.
The bags many people are using now are jute or polypropylene bags that can be reused over and over. Ironically polypropylene forms the product with which we fill bean bags and which are found in huge numbers in the insides of fish, but apparently that’s okay. Over the six month period that led up to the law kicking in, supermarkets have moved away from single-use plastic bags, stopping tens of millions of them from entering circulation.
Kiwis appear to have adopted the change early with around 80 per cent of shoppers bringing their own reusable bags as from last September. That said, a survey conducted in Auckland two weeks ago counted five new single-use plastic shopping bags carrying goods out of four different shops. However 25 paper, woven and other types of bags surveyed would be permissible.
Even though bio-based plastic bags are sometimes made from plants, their manufacturing process prevents them from breaking down as quickly or as easily so they are banned too. Compostable bags, if not composted properly, end up being a problem too as not everyone has access to a suitable home compost system. People will still be able to buy lightweight carrier bags, like those in the deli or butchery, along with bin liners, pet waste bags and nappy bags. Also exempt are bread bags and pouches for cooked chicken, the reasoning being these types of bags are needed for hygiene purposes.
So, confused? If not, you soon will be. The rules also don’t apply to long-life synthetic fabric multi-use shopping bags usually between 45 and 75 microns in thickness and made wholly or predominantly of nylon, polypropylene or polyester fabric and designed to be multi-use. Then it gets better. There is also an exemption for bags certified by an accredited entity as being capable of carrying 5kg over a distance of 100m for a minimum of 55 uses. The exemption aimed to cover bags made from synthetic fabrics – but isn’t that what’s banned in the first place?
The Government has promised that breaches will be enforced. One must ask: How?
Estimates say the average Kiwi uses 154 single-use plastic shopping bags each year equal to around 750 million per year. Plastics currently make up an estimated 80 to 85 per cent of marine litter yet shopping bags equate to only 0.01 per cent of the total weight of waste that goes into landfills.
Personally I have long been an advocate of pyrolysis – basically a system of burning waste in a furnace under high pressure and turning it into energy. It’s a great way to deal with any plastics. Given the above and the diminishing options we have to deal with waste I see no reason to change my thinking.
Just my opinion.