Whanganui has made its mark in history over the years, most recently with having the first river in the world to be given legal status.

Now a group of environmental campaigners are seeking to chalk up another first for the River City - the first council to ban single-use plastic bags.

The Plastic Bag Free Whanganui group put its case to the district council at the annual plan submissions hearings this week.

Describing themselves as concerned Whanganui residents from all walks of life who want to reduce the pollution from plastics, they conducted a rough survey recently which showed that shoppers here use about 2000 bags per hour of trading, adding up about 2.8 million bags each year.

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The average lifespan of a plastic shopping bag is put at 12 minutes before it is consigned to rubbish - rubbish which, as fossil fuel-based product, never degrades or breaks down, making it a major pollutant.

The group is asking the council to ban single-use bags which would see them removed from supermarket checkouts and the like, to be replaced with re-useable paper bags, fabric bags and cardboard boxes.

They are working on a project to create hundreds of re-useable fabric bags which they intend to give away.

In their submission, the group said plastic pollution in New Zealand had reached "such an extreme level that our seabirds and marine creatures are starting to die of starvation with bellies full of plastic pieces unable to squeeze in any real food".

"Enormous islands of floating plastics exist in our oceans, forming deserts of sea life. This is not a problem of the future - it's a problem of now.

"Whanganui must show, by banning single-use bags, that we can take positive action to reduce pollution and slow global warming."

The group has been looking at how other communities have tackled the issue and their submission included the story of Coles Bay in Tasmania which 15 years ago banned single-use plastic bags. Even though the population was only 470 people, the result was a decrease of 350,000 plastic bags per year.

Since then, Northern Territory, ACT and South Australia had joined the ban.

"Research into the upshot of it in ACT has shown there's been a 37 per cent reduction in landfill waste in the first two years - we suspect this would have been made up partly of fewer plastic bags, but partly due to a general reduction in waste brought about by a much stronger awareness of the implications of plastic and waste which would have arisen around the bag ban."

A ban would bring positive publicity for Whanganui, they said, enhancing the district's image with tourists and potential new residents.

"Let's make Whanganui the first local council in New Zealand to make this move, and show we're a little town that can punch above our weight."