Ninety percent of city and district mayors call for plastic bag levy

Plastic bags create a large expense for ratepayers, as they commonly blow out of landfill and need to be recollected.
KEVIN STENT/STUFF

Plastic bags create a large expense for ratepayers, as they commonly blow out of landfill and need to be recollected.

Mayors from across New Zealand have combined their voices to demand a plastic bag levy.

More than 90 per cent of New Zealand city and district mayors have signed an open letter, calling on central government to impose a plastic bag levy, or set aside and let them take up the reins.

It is a powerful show from local authorities to central government, which has shown no real movement on the issue of plastic bags, despite strong public support for action.

Local Government New Zealand (LGNZ) today sent the letter to Associate Environment Minister Scott Simpson.

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Wellington Mayor Justin Lester first launched the open letter in June, after central government intimated they would not ...
ROBERT KITCHIN/STUFF

Wellington Mayor Justin Lester first launched the open letter in June, after central government intimated they would not allow territorial authorities to impose their own bag levies.

A petition recently launched by a group of Wellington school students had also reached over 15,000 signatures.

Signed by 65 mayors and council chairmen and chairwomen, the letter builds on a previous show of support from the 2015 LGNZ Conference, when 89 per cent of councils supported a levy.

"The experience of those in local government is that plastic bags make a considerable impact on local environments and communities bear the environmental and financial burden," an LGNZ spokesman said.

She said international experience had shown levies were effective in Denmark, Ireland and China, where they resulted in a dramatic reduction in plastic bag use.

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The letter was launched in June by Wellington Mayor Justin Lester, and supported by Auckland Mayor Phil Goff and Dunedin's Dave Cull.

Lester said councils were at the coalface, and saw the impact of plastic waste first-hand.

"The fact that almost every mayor in New Zealand – and the majority of regional council chairs – have spoken up about plastic bags, and the fact that we have a united view about the solution to this problem, sends a very strong message about how big an issue this is," he said.

Retail NZ, which represents 4200 New Zealand businesses, also sent a letter to Simpson recently, calling for a levy.

Lester said it was "a unique situation" for retailers to call for greater regulation.

"It's a ground breaking move, and one that I hope will prove persuasive to Minister Simpson," he said.

"What the plastic bag levy campaign comes down to is whether the government is prepared to listen and act on what New Zealand has very clearly said it wants, irrespective of election point-scoring."

LGNZ President Lawrence Yule said it was clear that action was needed.

"Plastic bags cause harm in their creation, when they go to landfill and when they are littered," he said.

In January the Government announced proposals to ban products containing plastic microbeads from New Zealand, based on evidence they harmed waterways, fish and shellfish.

Yule said a levy on plastic bags was the logical next step.

"They are just as ubiquitous as the microbeads, which are largely being phased out by those who manufacture them anyway, and we need to take a real step forward to break the plastic bag habit so many of us have," he said.

"There are some excellent soft plastic recycling efforts under way, and we acknowledge those. But let's use the momentum we have here to make a real difference."

Simpson had shown signs of softening to a levy, but said recently he would not support "heavy handed legislation".

He has created a working group with players from the packaging and retail industry to discuss voluntary measures.​

 - Stuff

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