}

Friday, August 10, 2018

Banning the bags


Today the New Zealand Government announced that the government will be phasing out single-use plastic bags. The video above was posted by the New Zealand Labour Party on their Facebook Page, one of the few videos that’s actually embeddable. However, the video itself isn’t actually important: The action is.

“This year 65,000 Kiwis signed a petition calling for an outright ban.” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said. “It’s also the biggest single subject school children write to me about.” I bet it is: Kids get the importance of taking even simple actions better than many adults do. This action shows that this government is serious about its role as kaitiaki (guardian) of our environment.

The move was applauded by Auckland Council. Councillor Penny Hulse, Chair of Council’s Environment and Community Committee, said, “With hundreds of millions of plastic bags being used only once by Kiwis each year for an average of only 10 minutes, the desire to reduce our plastic waste and the call for action from the public to protect our environment is loud and clear.”

The Leader of the Opposition said predictable things in predictable ways, such as, “Kiwis were reducing their plastic usage because it’s the right thing to do. They didn’t need to be told what to do…” which was never the point. Banning single-use plastic bags is about the final push to eliminate them, something that only regulation can accomplish. He claimed credit for the reduction in plastic bag use, even though the previous government actually did almost nothing about reducing the number of single-use plastic bags used; their main—and very useful—contribution was to develop a programme for people to recycle soft packaging, including the bags. I use that system all the time. But that only deals with disposing of bags, not reducing their use in the first place.

This government’s move is great, but not needed for me. I switched to reusable bags years ago, and, as I said a few days ago, even the supermarket chain I get online orders from also now uses reusable bags for deliveries. Over the years I’ve also collected reusable bags given away for free by companies wanting to promoted themselves, so I’ll be all set once single-use bags are banned everywhere.

There have been questions raised about how small businesses will cope. I think the best analogy is 2012, when New Zealand changed its give way rules at intersections. Critics predicted mayhem, but it never happened. Instead, people adapted—as they always do. If people can adapt to changes in the way they drive, then I’m confident they can adapt to always bringing a shopping bag with them. Or, businesses can always switch back to paper bags.

I think that the move will create opportunities for businesses. Some will want to give out branded bags to increase awareness of their brands (or just reinforce them). Others will offer special bags for particular purposes, such as mesh bags for produce, or a special bag to protect potatoes, or one for onions. (I've noticed that similar ones on Amazon list the weight of the bags so the purchaser knows it's minimal, which is important for stuff we buy by weight).

There’s also an opportunity to create more “man friendly” bags, since a lot of them are clearly designed to appeal to women. That made sense in the early days, because women were the ones who did most families’ grocery shopping. Being generally more socially aware than men, they were also more likely to use reusable bags for all sorts of shopping. Now that men will need such bags, whether they like it or not, it would be good to have more options that are either more masculine or, at least, less feminine. I’ve heard many men say they feel uncomfortable using reusable bags because they consider them too feminine (or maybe they think using them is feminising? That’s a different problem). In any case, it makes sense to remove the last little barriers to using reusable bags.

But, like I said, this really won’t affect me, because I’ve already switched (apart from produce bags, like above; that’s next). However, I may need to remember to take a bag when I pick up a few things at a small shop somewhere, though many of them already use paper bags (like the chemist where I get my prescriptions). This move by the government will help end the era of disposable bags, and that’s good for all of us.

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