If you are planning to visit New Zealand anytime soon, don’t plan to find single-use plastic bags at local markets. You already know the drill if you live in New Zealand. Effective July 1 (2023), New Zealand became the first nation to ax all single-use produce bags in their markets. Customers are now expected to bring their own bags for produce when they shop.
The latest ban is just the next step in a longer process to get rid of single-use plastics altogether. Several years ago, New Zealand lawmakers passed legislation to prevent supermarkets from providing single-use bags with handles. However, the previous legislation said nothing of biodegradable or plant-based plastics. This new legislation does.
No single-use plastic bags with handles will be allowed. But that’s not all. It is now illegal in New Zealand to manufacture, sell, and distribute single-use cutlery, plates, and bowls made of plastic. Single-use plastic straws are only available to people with special health needs or disabilities.
Only a Temporary Solution
New Zealand officials hope that their latest ban will reduce the plastic waste stream by eliminating as many as 150 million plastic bags from circulation. Taking plastic bags out of the waste stream is definitely a tangible action. But to the extent that we have a plastic waste problem, which is debatable in and of itself, banning plastic bags is only a temporary solution.
Years from now, people are going to start complaining about all the trees being cut down to make paper bags. They will complain of the natural resources being consumed to manufacture mesh bags, fabric bags, and so on. Why? Because the problem here isn’t really with plastic. The problem is that we throw too many things away. It is that we prefer convenience over all else. So once plastic has been subdued, its opponents will find something else to go after.
Plastic Can Be Used Responsibly
One of the complaints against single-use plastic bags is that people do not dispose of them responsibly. Bingo! It is the same thing with plastic water bottles, plastic food containers, and every other single-use plastic item of which you can think. People do not dispose of the items properly. Therefore, recycling them effectively is nearly impossible.
Both using plastic responsibly and recycling it are possible. Plenty of evidence exists within the industrial plastic sector. For instance, manufacturers and industrial facilities in seven states sell their scrap plastic waste to a company known as Seraphim Plastics. Seraphim Plastics buys the plastic waste, transports it to one of its facilities, and uses a mechanical recycling process to turn it into plastic regrind. They sell the regrind to manufacturers who turn it into new products.
Seraphim Plastics isn’t the only company that does this. There are plenty of others. The secret to their success is twofold: a simple and cost-effective process and a willingness among their customers to keep plastic waste separated and uncontaminated.
Plastic Bans Are the Easy Way Out
The thing about banning plastic is that it amounts to taking the easy way out. It is easier just to blame manufacturers for creating single-use plastics and then ban them entirely. Meanwhile, the people who actually pollute (think consumers who don’t use plastic responsibly) are let off the hook.
New Zealand lawmakers will undoubtedly pat themselves on the back for having the courage to ban single-use plastic bags. After a brief timeout to catch their breath, they will take aim at something else. In the end, their efforts will have very little impact on the real world. Banning plastic will not change the fact that human beings produce waste.