You recently published a letter arguing against phasing out plastic bags, and claiming that paper bags are worse than single-use plastic bags.

To be clear to your readers, I understand plastic shopping bags are not our only waste problem, but they can have serious impacts on marine wildlife, and they are contributing to the growing issue of microplastics in our food chain.

It is estimated that up to five trillion plastic bags are used worldwide every year. If put one after the other, these plastic bags could be wrapped around the world seven times every hour.

In its coastal litter clean-ups here in New Zealand, Sustainable Coastlines has found that plastic bags are among the five most common items picked up.

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Phasing out single-use plastic shopping bags is an important first step to tackling New Zealand's wider waste problem, including other single-use plastics. Importantly, it signals that as a country we need to do things very differently — manufacturers, retailers and consumers all have a responsibility to reduce waste and prevent plastic pollution.

The good news is that we're seeing many businesses taking action — whether that's food outlets no longer automatically providing straws with drinks, to manufacturers and retailers actively finding ways to reduce single-use plastic packaging.

I recently announced the government's work programme to tackle New Zealand's toughest waste issues. This includes expanding the waste disposal levy to all landfills and improving our data on waste and resource recovery, investing more strategically in infrastructure and innovation, and a greater focus on product stewardship for problematic waste streams such as vehicle tyres and e-waste.

In regard to paper bags, the best option is for retailers and consumers to use reusable bags — and to use them responsibly, over and over again. We need to move away from using things once before sending them to landfill, and instead design products and packaging to be reused time and again.

EUGENIE SAGE
Associate Minister for the Environment