(Dec. 3, 2018) On November 24, 2018, Associate Minister for the Environment, Eugenie Sage, announced that the New Zealand government had decided that a mandatory phaseout of single-use plastic shopping bags will come into effect in the middle of 2019. (Press Release, Eugenie Sage, Mandatory Phase Out of Single-Use Plastic Bags Confirmed (Nov. 24, 2018).) The government had originally announced the move to phase out such bags in August 2018, after 65,000 members of the public signed a petition calling for an outright ban. (Press Release, Jacinda Ardern & Eugenie Sage, Single-Use Plastic Bags to Be Phased Out (Aug. 10, 2018).)
Following the August announcement, the public was asked to comment on “options for the date the phase-out is to be complete by, what bags should be included, any retailers that should be exempted, and how best to help people with the transition.” (Id.) The Ministry for the Environment received more than 6,000 submissions and more than 3,000 responses to an online survey on waste reduction, with more than 92% of submitters favoring the mandatory phaseout proposal. (Press Release, Eugenie Sage, Thousands of New Zealanders Have Their Say on Plastic Bags (Sept. 6, 2018); Ministry for the Environment, Summary of Submissions: Proposed Mandatory Phase Out of Single-Use Shopping Bags 8–9 (2018).)
The requirement to phase out the bags will apply to all retailers and will cover “bags under 70 microns, with the exception of lightweight bags made of synthetic fabric and designed for multiple use over a long life. Degradable plastic bags will also be included, which covers oxo-degradable, biodegradable and compostable plastic bags.” (Mandatory Phase Out of Single-Use Plastic Bags Confirmed, supra.)
According to the Associate Minister,
[s]ingle-use plastic bags often end up polluting our precious coastal and marine environments and cause serious harm to marine mammals, sea-birds and other marine life.
Many retailers and individuals have already stopped using single-use plastic bags and recent research shows 50 per cent of New Zealanders now say they always bring reusable bags when shopping.
This change will be difficult for some people, and I acknowledge the impact on retailers, as well as local manufacturers and importers of plastic bags. For this reason, and to meet World Trade Organisation requirements, the phase out will have a six month implementation period, despite calls for a shorter timeframe. (Id.)
The new requirements will be included in a regulation made under the Waste Minimisation Act 2008, which enables the government to make regulations controlling or prohibiting the sale, manufacture, or disposal of certain products or materials. (Waste Minimisation Act 2008, s 23.) There is currently one other regulation related to prohibiting certain plastic products—the Waste Minimisation (Microbeads) Regulation 2017—which came into effect on June 7, 2018. (Plastic Microbeads Ban, MINISTRY FOR THE ENVIRONMENT (last visited Nov. 26, 2018).)
The New Zealand government recently signed the New Plastics Economy Global Commitment, which “aims to eradicate plastic waste and pollution at the source and has been signed by 250 organisations including many of the world’s largest packaging producers, brands, retailers and recyclers, as well as governments and NGOs.” (Press Release, Eugenie Sage, New Zealand Signs Global Declaration to Cut Plastic Waste (Oct. 29, 2018). See also Global Commitment, NEW PLASTICS ECONOMY (last visited Nov. 26, 2018).)