What is Zero Waste? What can you do? What is waste? What's NZ doing? Types of Waste Resources & Education Auckland

Home : Types of Waste

Plastic Bags

In a recent survey, respondents consider 56%* of their plastic shopping bags handed out by supermarkets were unnecessary and 80%* of New Zealand shoppers believe that supermarkets could do more to reduce the numbers of plastic bags they give out.

Join Stop Plastic Bags Petition - Send your message to major NZ supermarkets. >>> click here to see more.

* Kiwi PlasticBag Concern Research. February 2007 >>> click here to download.


Despite the fact that plastic bags make up a small proportion of the waste stream they are nevertheless an environmental concern and can also be held up as a waste reduction icon to consumers.

Problems include:

  • Take hundreds of years to decompose

  • Littering of landscapes and waterways

  • Threaten wildlife (particularly marine life such as turtles) 

  • Release toxic gases when burnt

"Until we noticed the dumps filling up, most of us never thought about the stream of plastics flowing through our lives - 18 million tons each year, of which 6.5 million tons is packaging and over 3 billion dollars worth is plastic bags in which to throw the other plastics out."
(Donella H. Meadows, The Global Citizen.)

A number of measures have been taken in countries around the world to tackle the plastic bag problem:


November 27, 2003

A selection of supermarkets in Shanghai, China’s largest city, will charge shoppers for plastic bags from 2004 in an attempt to reduce waste. The bag fees are part of a three year campaign to clean up pollution.

Supermarkets in Shanghai give away more than one million bags per day - these either end up in landfills or blowing around the city as litter.


Plastic bags have been the cause of blocked drains and severe floods. They have now been banned.


March 2002- The ‘Clean and Green’ image of Ireland was threatened by the intense littering of plastic bags.
The Government has now imposed a charge on all plastic shopping bags (of around 30 NZ Cents per bag).
The Irish model has shown that there was a change in behaviour by shoppers almost overnight.
There have been reports of a (maintained) 97.5% reduction in plastic bag distribution. The charge has generated approximately €10 million (NZ$ 5 million).
This money will be channelled into a fund to promote waste management and environmental initiatives.

South Africa

So many get caught up in trees and fences that they have assumed a new identity as the ‘national flower’.
Manufacturers are now required to produce thicker bags. 
A charge has also been imposed on bags.


Environment Ministers have challenged retailers to voluntarily reduce the 6.9 billion bags used each year.
They are now looking at introducing mandatory measures.
2003 - Coles Bay, Tasmania have banned plastic bags altogether and are providing residents with alternatives such as calico bags.


2003 - The northern state of Himachal Pradesh has implemented a total ban on plastic bags - this includes the banning of the production, storage, use, sale and distribution of polythene bags.

Penalties are severe - they include up to seven years in jail or a fine of up to 100,000 Rupees.

The law is based on legislation passed by the national parliament, but Himachal Pradesh is the first state to have implemented it.

New Zealand

There are several organisations developing positive alternatives to plastic bags and raising awareness within local communities.

  • Christchurch City Council is collecting plastic shopping bags from the kerbside as part of their recycling collection. (April 2004)

    The collected bags are sorted at Recovered Material Foundation paper depot and packed into bales. The bales are sent to Christchurch company Range Industries, which has devised a process called thermo-fusion™ which turns the supermarket bags into durable plastic planks suitable for boxing, pallets and fenceposts.

    A bale can contain up to 25,000 bags and weigh around 800kg. At Range Industries, that bale makes up to 1000m of plastic planking (approx. 100mm x 18mm).

Click to view/download PDF   Plastic Bag Report (PDF 68 KB)

See also Biodegradable plastics

  Foam Recycling in NZ
  Glass Recycling in NZ
  Farm Plastics
Plastic Bags
  Biodegradable plastics
  Used batteries
  Light bulbs and fluorescent tubes
  E-waste Recycling
  TV Take Back Programme
  Bisphenol A in New Zealand
  Breast Cancer and Environmental Risks
Contact Zero Waste Trust
Click here for contact details
Print this page
Click here for a printable version