Nadine Higgins: Ban the plastic bag - if Rwanda can, we can

Slovenian artist Miha Artnak works on his "Plastic Bag Monster" outside the European Commission headquarters in Brussels.
FRANCOIS LENOIR/REUTERS

Slovenian artist Miha Artnak works on his "Plastic Bag Monster" outside the European Commission headquarters in Brussels.

OPINION: The dump is one of the most depressing places I ever visit.

As a kid it was exciting, because chances were high I'd get an ice cream on the way home. Now, it feels like a graveyard of dreams. Things people used to care about lie dejectedly in massive piles, as plastic bags drift through the wind in a way that's not at all like the poetic start to one of Katy Perry's biggest hits.

Most of that stuff was, at one point, wanted, valued, used and re-used. But with plastic bags you're lucky if they survive the trip home from the supermarket before they're consigned to the bin.

Nadine Higgins says enough is enough with our obsession with plastic.
CHRIS McKEEN/FAIRFAX NZ

Nadine Higgins says enough is enough with our obsession with plastic.

For that reason, in the back seat of my car, alongside the ever-present dog hair, there's half a dozen re-useable shopping bags.

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But when I get to the supermarket checkout the operator always asks me if I want my chicken – already wrapped in plastic – in a plastic bag. And the mince, and the washing powder and the yoghurt. I basically have to fend off offers of plastic bags like a dieter fends off offers of cake from their feeder friends. Why are we so keen to wrap stuff that's already wrapped in plastic in more plastic?

A worker sorts recyclable plastic waste at the Prabkaya Recycle Factory in Pathum Thani outside Bangkok, Thailand.
ATHIT PERAWONGMETHA/REUTERS

A worker sorts recyclable plastic waste at the Prabkaya Recycle Factory in Pathum Thani outside Bangkok, Thailand.

Be honest – how many do you have stuffed in your pantry? How many times have you taken those bags back to the recycling centre at the supermarket? How many recyclable bags do you own, but never use?

Which is why the latest petition to ban plastic bags got me thinking – maybe it's time we did.

We'd hardly be the first. Did you know Rwanda has banned plastic bags, that China has had a ban on plastic bags in place since 2008?

The Environment Minister has refused to ban plastic bags, saying not enough of them end up in the ocean and anyway, they ...
SUPPLIED

The Environment Minister has refused to ban plastic bags, saying not enough of them end up in the ocean and anyway, they only make up 10 per cent of our plastic waste.

(My editor responded to these fun facts by pointing out both are authoritarian states. Rwanda is not - he's usually right, just not this time). 

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I find it interesting that a country like China, hardly renowned for its environmentally friendly policies, should choose to flex its authoritarian muscle to protect the environment.

Plus, plenty of other countries and cities we're more fond of comparing ourselves to have introduced bans or levies to reduce the use of plastic bags.

The Environment Minister has refused to ban plastic bags, saying not enough of them end up in the ocean and anyway, they only make up 10 per cent of our plastic waste. But wouldn't reducing our plastic waste by 10 per cent be a huge achievement?

If banning them is a bridge too far because you like to use them for your bin liners, let's start with a levy. The number of plastic bags leaving The Warehouse dropped 73 per cent when they introduced a 10c charge. When the UK did it, the drop was similarly dramatic.

It makes no sense to me to keep using something for 15 minutes, (literally, that's what the research says) then sending them to the tip at a rate of 40,000 an hour, where, being made of fossil fuels, they never break down.

It's time convenience ceased to be our number one priority. Otherwise, it won't be long before the dump isn't the only depressing place to visit in New Zealand.

 - Sunday Star Times

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