Supermarkets saw writing on wall and focus on way we package goods will only widen.

Nothing is quite the same after an election, even if the voters have left the major parties with much the same proportions of support they had before. The debates will have brought some issues to the fore and they must be addressed whether the Government changes or not. Supermarket chains have obviously read the signals from the recent election that the environment is going to receive some early attention.

Countdown announced last week that single use plastic bags would not be available in its stores by the end of next year. This week New World followed suit. The Foodstuffs chain said a survey of its customers had found most in favour of a charge for each bag but even more were asking for them to be done away with. It is a remarkable response considering the convenience of the bags.

They are handy not just for carrying the groceries away from the check-out but for all sorts of household uses. They are an ideal size for a bundle of old newspapers in case anybody has not noticed. Unfortunately, the Auckland Council does not want them in its paper and glass collection either.


Useful as they are, households simply find themselves with too many of them. They accumulate bags of plastic bags, and those that go to landfills are liable to blow all over the landscape. One way or another, they are said to be making their way into oceans and that is where they attract the concern of serious environmentalists.

For the sake of turtles who mistake them for jelly fish, their favourite snack, and the state of the oceans generally, we need to get a reusable bag. Foodstuffs plans to give away two million of them to customers this summer. Charging for them might be a better policy. A free bag is likely to be as easily forgotten as the more flimsy bag it replaces. A charge, even of a token amount, works wonders on human behaviour. It would need to be more than a dollar but not much more.

Before the age of supermarkets people carried their own bag when they went shopping for groceries. Plastic net bags were very popular since they compressed to pocket size. They would seem suitable for use within a supermarket since items cannot be hidden in them.

They would hold only a fraction of the goods in the average shopper's trolley, though. Bulk shopping is the problem. That and the packaging that adds to the bulk of so many food items. It will require more than one or two sturdy reusable bags to contain the load in most people's trolleys.

Much of that bulky packaging is also plastic and that will be the next target once the bags have been banished. Will those cling-film, tear-off plastic bags survive? Since they are used for loose fruit and vegetables they probably rank higher in environmental esteem than pre-packaging, but those bags could end up in oceans too.

The ubiquitous supermarket bag will be just the first bit of plastic to go. Greenpeace and like-minded organisation will be encouraged to set their sights much wider. Anything that might ensnare fish or be eaten by them, or break down in water and release toxins will be forbidden in time.

By then, no doubt, the ingenuity of commerce will have found convenient substitutes.