Kiwis whose kitchen drawers or cupboards are brimming with plastic bags, are in luck.

Soft plastic recycling bins at 70 Auckland supermarkets and stores now mean shopping bags, biscuit packs, and more no longer need to go to landfill.

But Environment Minister Nick Smith said people needed a culture change for the million dollar project to be successful.

It's estimated that Kiwis go through 1.6 billion of the bags a year - and though the facilities are only available in Auckland so far, there are plans to expand access to 70 per cent of New Zealanders within three years.

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In Auckland, collection bins are set up at stores including some Pak n' Save, New World and Countdown supermarkets, as well as the Warehouse.

The bins will be maintained by non-profit group Abilities, which employs people with disabilities.

The plastics are to be sent to a facility in Australia for recycling, with plans to build a dry-cleaning facility in Auckland by Astron Plastics Group - using a $510,000 Government grant - that will have the capacity to recycle 2000 tonnes of soft plastics and will reduce the requirement to import virgin plastic polymers.

Traditionally, soft plastics (the type that can easily be scrunched up into a ball) have not been able to be recycled in kerbside bins, as they can cause clog-ups at processing plants.

The programme is also funded by a $700,000 Government grant to the Packaging Forum, which has been matched by industry contributions - taking the total project value to more than $1.3 million.

Environment Minister Nick Smith said the recycling initiative was more sensible than banning or placing a compulsory levy on the bags, as they made up only 0.2 per cent of waste going to landfill and 10 per cent of plastic waste.

He said plastic shopping bags made up 1.5 per cent of the litter items in nationwide litter surveys.

In Ireland, in 2002, a plastic bag levy of 15 cents per bag was introduced, reducing the annual use of plastic bags from an estimated 328 bags per capita to 21 bags per capita overnight.

In California, opponents to a plastic bag ban have delayed the enforcement of the ban, with a referendum being held on the issue in November next year.

And according to Bloomberg, a plastic bag ban in Austin, Texas backfired when it was found that people were instead throwing away heavy duty plastic bags at an "unprecedented" rate.


To see where you can recycle your soft plastics, go to: http://www.recycling.kiwi.nz/soft-plastics/store-locator/

Soft plastics:

Produce bags, supermarket bags, frozen food bags, toilet roll and hygiene wrap, bread, rice, and pasta bags, biscuit and chop packets, cereal box liners, newspaper and magazine wrap.