Declaring war on plastic bags

17:40, Jan 16 2014
Ruth Clarke
DISPOSABLE: Timaru District Council waste minimisation manager Ruth Clarke would like to see more people take individual responsibility for reducing plastic bag use.

An average supermarket shop for a Timaru family of four is likely to include 20 to 30 different flexible plastic bags and wraps. That's more than 1000 bags a year, with most ending up in the Redruth landfill once discarded, and the remainder left to litter.

Reducing the prolific use of plastic bags and wraps to protect the environment is not as easy it looks when the carbon footprint of alternatives is taken into consideration.

The production and distribution of paper is possibly more environmentally unfriendly than plastic bags, due to its multi-layered processing. Paper bags are heavier than plastic, adding air pollution to the mix as more transport is required to deliver the same quantity.

Environmental activists estimate around 600 billion to a trillion plastic bags are used globally per year.

Timaru supermarkets do not have specific records on how many plastic bags are used or sold annually, but nationally Foodstuffs' usage in 2013 was 12 per cent less than in 2005 despite good business growth over that period.

Some Timaru Foodstuffs supermarket owners said they had noticed a reduction in usage of plastic bags since a 5 cent charge was applied in August 2009.


New World Highfield owner Howard Smith said he had seen a definite increase in the number of customers bringing in their own reusable bags as they become more environmentally aware.

Countdown spokeswoman Kate Porter said its supermarkets had introduced small bags made from 25 per cent recycled plastic as well as instore collection bins for recycling the bags.

"One of the challenges we face is that while many customers choose to use reusable bags, many struggle to remember [to bring] them," she said.

It is not so much the manufacture and use of the lightweight, polyethylene bags but the disposal of them which is the main issue, according to the Timaru District Council waste minimisation manager Ruth Clarke.

"The problem is the waste of resource," she said.

Valuable landfill space was taken up with plastic bags as Timaru District Council kerbside collection did not have the facilities to recycle them.

"The key message is reduction. We need to be waste aware."

Individuals could make a difference, Ms Clarke said, by buying in bulk to avoid multiple packaging and taking in their own extra recyclable bags for fruit and vegetables as well as the rest of their shopping.

The Timaru Herald