Some of the country's biggest retailers have waited until the last minute to make the shift away from plastic bags.
From tomorrow, it will be illegal under a new government rule for retailers to sell or give to customers single-use plastic shopping bags with handles.
On a survey of central Queen St's 200 or so retail premises on Tuesday afternoon, a fairly quiet shopping period, the Herald on Sunday counted what appeared to be five new single-use plastic shopping bags carrying goods out of four shops. A photographer later snapped three more. Noel Leeming, Farmers, Daiso Japan, Yummy Jianbing takeaways, Jay Jays, Mirrou and Hannahs all said they would have compliant bags from Monday.
The survey counted 25 paper, woven and other types of bags, which would be permitted after Monday, leaving shops. Many people put smaller purchases in their own bags or into a jacket pocket.
Retailers have been preparing for the ban, which was introduced with a six-month phase-out period under the Waste Minimisation (Plastic Shopping Bags) Regulations 2018.
For environmental protection, it prohibited single-use plastic shopping bags with handles in which the plastic was up to 70 microns in thickness, including those made of biodegradable or compostable plastic.
Among bag carriers walking up and down central Auckland's main street, what used to be called supermarket bags were greatly outnumbered by woven shopping carry-bags, seemingly stiff-walled store-branded bags, and backpacks and shoulder bags.
One shopper who emerged from a fashion store was happy with the Superdry-branded bag containing his purchase.
"I think it's recycled so I'm glad. I don't like plastic bags," Wuttipat Klinyam said. Of the imminent ban, he said: "That's cool."
Retail New Zealand chief executive Greg Harford told the Herald on Sunday, "most large retailers are ready or close to being ready for the ban".
"There's a couple of areas where possibly the message hasn't got through effectively. The first is this ban applies to every retail business - cafes, takeaways, anyone selling anything to a customer; not just grocery stores.
"The ban also includes biodegradable and compostable bags. They seem environmentally friendly but they cause problems out there in the environment.
"Over the past couple of years there has been quite a change in customers' demand for bags. Increasingly they are taking their own bags, or are happy to leave the store without taking a bag."
The Countdown supermarket chain phased out single-use plastic carrier bags last October. It said most customers now brought their own bags. It sells a $1 re-usable bag and paper bags are 20c. Its previous multi-use plastic bag "has been excluded in the new legislation".
The maximum court penalty for knowingly flouting the ban is $100,000. The Ministry for the Environment said it would prosecute if necessary but intended to take an educational approach.
People could report non-compliant retailers to the ministry online, and the ministry will conduct random audits of shopping areas.
About the bag ban
• The ban on single-use plastic shopping bags comes into effect on Monday.
• Ministry for the Environment says it applies mainly to shopping bags, with handles, that are made of plastic up to 70 microns in thickness.
• Included are the lightweight plastic bags that were commonly used at supermarkets, convenience stores, takeaway food and other retail outlets, as well as heavier boutique-style shopping bags and the "emergency" bags that were offered by some supermarkets.
• Bags made of biodegradable and compostable plastic are also covered by the ban.
• Retailers will not be able to give or sell the bags to customers.
• Still permitted to be sold/supplied are bags without handles for use as bin liners, for pet waste and barrier bags used when buying meat, fruit and vegetables.
• The maximum penalty for someone convicted of knowingly flouting the ban is $100,000, but the ministry expects mainly to take an educational approach.