The penny has finally dropped!

In the last six months, the awareness of the damage single use shopping bags do to the environment and their wasteful use of resources has finally got to the supermarkets, the Government and the public.

Many thanks to the public for putting the pressure on to cut out these short-life pieces of plastic.

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We were using them at a rate of 1.6 billion a year, just in New Zealand. That is approximately 8000 tonnes, or 4500 blue whales. Not that blue whales would thrive on 8000 tonnes of plastic bags — as a pilot whale washed up in Thailand found, after just a few.

But wait, there's much more!

Next time you're shopping at the supermarket but you need to save some money, just buy stuff that isn't packed, wrapped, or is plastic. You'll save a fortune and you won't even need the ubiquitous single-use shopping bag to carry it home, it will fit in your pockets. Trouble is, you won't have much to eat, either.

Joking aside, there is not much in supermarkets or any other shop, that doesn't have some plastic involved in its presentation.

Some of it is useful and has a reasonable life. Many plastic bottles are recyclable. Some is just for convenience, such as the plastic around batteries.

This brings the cynic out in me. Like all industries, the plastic industries are looking for ways to sell more product, with little or no consideration for what happens after it has served its purpose.

We are now reaping what we have thrown for the last 50 years — streets, waterways and beaches strewn with the detritus of our convenience.

This goes with whether it is a single-use plastic bag, an empty drink bottle or the plastic hub cap that has fallen off a wheel, as they do.


So what solutions are there, other than taking individual responsibility for every bit of plastic we have used so it won't end up in the environment or the landfill?

The most promoted idea involves stewardship, where your plastic item is "owned" by the manufacturer and will be disposed of by them (you will have paid a deposit on it when you bought it) and this deposit will be refunded when it is returned to the appropriate recycling depot. This works toward a "circular economy" where these materials get re-used as much as possible.

John Milnes
John Milnes

This will apply whether it is a bottle or a computer. It will work because what has been considered valueless suddenly has a value, and even if you can't be bothered to pick up your deposit and you "chuck it away" somebody else will retrieve it and benefit. Some of us will remember when collecting bottles was a major source of fund-raising for the Scouts — it will be again.

There are already a few places starting to use glass milk bottles again, and it won't be such a large step even for supermarkets to recycle milk bottles. The plastic bottles already arrive in crates that are returned, so adding bottles won't be much. They also probably won't have to travel as far as new plastic ones would.

There is a lot of stuff that contains plastic that we are often unaware of. Wipes are one that could easily be either paper or washable cotton.

Although single-use plastic bags weren't a large part of our plastic waste, they have certainly raised awareness of the plastic we can remove from our lives.

And, after a short time, we will hardly miss it.

John Milnes is a Green Party member, foundation member of Sustainable Whanganui, member of Plastic Free Whanganui (previously Plastic Bag Free Whanganui). Still encouraging the enjoyment of our world without messing it up.