New Zealand is so poor at recycling plastic bags that a plastics company is importing used shopping bags from America to turn into road barriers and other products.
Valentine Picton, a Mt Wellington plastics recycler, turns flimsy plastic film, such as shopping bags and the cling-wrap used to protect pallets of goods, into sturdy products such as road barriers, garden edging and plastic reels for electrical wire.
He told the Herald he is importing plastic bags because too few used bags in New Zealand are recycled, instead being dumped into landfills.
New Zealanders use almost a billion plastic bags a year, but only a small proportion are recycled.
The Packaging Council says about 23 per cent of our plastic is recycled, and the rest ends up in rubbish dumps.
Mr Picton, who employs about 20 staff at his recycling facility, says importing plastic shopping bags is as "like bringing coals to Newcastle".
"There's no need to have any shopping bags going to landfill," he said.
"I could use every shopping bag in the country. We are seeing all this waste because we don't have the sense to collect our plastic bags in a bag outside [the supermarket]."
It takes between 450kg and 1500kg of plastic bags to make a single cable reel, so Mr Picton gets through thousands of tonnes of plastic a year.
Any plastic bags will do, and they don't need to be clean - they are all chopped up and then sterilised by a heat machine.
"I get mums and dads coming here with their plastic bags in the car," he said. "It doesn't matter if there's been a banana skin or broken jar of jam in there."
Mr Picton said he wished more retailers would follow the example of The Warehouse, which sends him enough plastic bags and pallet wrap each year to make thousands of metres of plastic cable covering.
The 61-year-old, who has been in the recycling business for 35 years, said his business was "the solution to the pollution".
Plastic bags can take hundreds of years to break down in landfills, and can threaten waterways, landscapes and wildlife.
"It's common sense, and yet a lot of people don't understand it. They don't believe you can make a road barrier or a cable reel out of a shopping bag," said Mr Picton.
Green Party MP Nandor Tanczos said it was crazy that a resource as valuable as plastic was being "chucked in a hole in the ground".
"The international price for plastic is quite high at the moment because of oil prices," he said. "We're so used to disposable, so-called 'convenience', single-use packaging."
"We need to change our whole culture on these things."
In August, Mr Picton's recycling company, Enviroreel Plastics, and The Warehouse won a Packaging Council environmental award for their joint recycling scheme.
Mr Picton, an engineer, developed the process for turning the plastic to cable reels and cable cover himself.
He has been recycling plastics for more than 20 years, starting a similar, but larger, recycling business in the United States before deciding to move his family back to New Zealand after the September 11 bombings.
Packaging Council chief executive Paul Curtis said the arrangement with The Warehouse was an example of the environmental gains retailers could make behind the scenes, at a wholesale level.
He said a lot of consumers were keen to cut down on packaging waste, but this did not always mean less packaging on the shelves.
"A lot of what goes on is what the consumer doesn't see," he said. "A lot of the packaging that comes in is unwrapped before the product even goes on the shelf. It's about finding ways of recycling that packaging."