Plastic bags have become part of our shopping experience. Not just for shoppers, but also for the wonderful people at the checkout. It’s often seen as good service to offer a customer a plastic bag, even if the product has handles or can easily be carried.
By politely refusing a bag you don’t need, you’re reducing the amount of waste you produce. Just say “Bags Not” the next time you’re offered a plastic bag at the shops. It’s that easy to start getting rid of them.
What can I really achieve by refusing a plastic bag?
In NZ we use around 1.6 billion single-use plastic bags every year. That works out to be over 350 bags per person – enough to carpet the entire country in two layers of plastic bags! We think that’s nuts.
If every New Zealander used one less plastic bag a week, we’d reduce the number of bags we use every year by 250 million. Not bad!
But if we aim a little higher and we each use just one single-use plastic bag per week we would reduce the number by 1.35 billion. Now that’s positive change!
How long does a plastic bag take to break down?
Put it this way, that plastic bag you were given at the dairy the other day will be on the planet longer than your childrens’, childrens’, childrens’, childrens’, childrens’ children. Yep, it takes ages to break down – thousands of years according to scientists. The scary thing is that plastic never breaks down completely, it just gets smaller. It’s a man-made synthetic product, so it can’t be returned back into the natural life cycle. Micro-organisms do not recognise it as food, so they won’t consume it.
The majority of plastic bags in New Zealand end up in a landfill where they’re squashed together with tonnes of other waste. And that’s where they’ll remain without breaking down for longer than we can imagine.
If left exposed to the elements, UV rays from the sun will cause plastics to become brittle. This makes them fall apart into smaller pieces called microplastics . Microplastics find their way into our soils, rivers and oceans. To birds and fish and tiny creatures like plankton, these microplastics often look like food, so they eat them. This often kills them or causes toxic contamination. Then when these smaller creatures are eaten by larger animals, including us humans, the toxins are passed on.
I’ll often pick up something from the supermarket when I’m out at lunchtime. Without a bag on me what should I do?
Yep, we’ve all been there. From time to time you’ll find yourself in a situation where a plastic bag is your only option. We get that. But if you reuse that bag again and then make sure it ends its life in the soft plastics recycling bin, and make a mental note to remember a bag next time, then it’s not such a bad outcome. In saying that, you may want to consider getting yourself one of those reusable bags that connect to a key ring, or one that folds up and fits in your pocket.
Why don’t supermarkets bring back paper bags? Then I can put them in the recycling with the rest of my paper. McDonald’s have them.
We can’t comment on what Macca’s decide to do, but we can say that the use of paper bags isn’t as kind to the environment as many people think. There are three things to consider when working out the environmental impacts of paper bags.
- How is it made? Paper is made from trees which have to be cut down. Cutting down trees is not a great thing for the environment. The process of making paper also requires a lot of energy and resources.
- How many times will it be used? Paper doesn’t like getting wet and it can easily tear. That’s why it doesn’t get used many times.
- What’s its afterlife? This is the big plus with paper. It can be composted and returned to the soil or recycled.
Why don’t supermarkets adopt bio bags? I know they don’t break down in landfill, but they do break down if they get into our waterways.
That’s not entirely correct. There are a lot of ‘bio bags’ out there and it’s easy to get confused by their various claims. Those that are certified to be compostable will completely biodegrade when in a hot compost environment due to the heat and the microorganisms in that compost. This is likely to be a commercial compost company. The heat and microorganisms that are needed are not present in our waterways. So the only place they can end their life is in a hot compost environment.
Read more about compostable/biodegradable bags in our Glossary section.
IMPORTANT: Do not put any bio bag in a soft plastic recycling bin. They’re made from plant-based material which will contaminate the soft plastic collection. This means none of that collection can be recycled and will end up in a landfill.
When you refuse a plastic bag, be friendly about it. Like us, shop attendants are changing the way they do things too. A gentle reminder may be all they need to help break an old habit. Remember, we’re all in this together.
Did you know?
New Zealanders use around 1.6 billion single-use plastic bags every year. Whoa, that can’t be good!
Did you know?
Plastic bags are illegal in Kenya. You could get 4 years in prison or a $40,000 fine for just using one. Ouch!
Did you know?
If every Kiwi used one less plastic bag a week, we’d reduce the number we use every year by 250 million. Not bad!
Unless you have huge hands, dozens of pockets, or you’re really good at juggling, you’ll need something to help carry your shopping home. But it doesn’t have to be a single-use plastic bag. You can easily replace a plastic bag with a long-life bag, a box, a basket, a handbag, or a backpack when you go shopping.
But plastic bags are so convenient? What will replace them?
We hear ya! There’s no denying how useful plastic bags are in our daily lives. These days you can literally turn up at the shops with just a plastic card and walk away with your arms full of new products in free plastic bags. But plastic pollution is a massive issue facing us and future generations.
We need to act now to stop it getting any worse. In terms of replacing them, our key point is to take a bag with you when you go shopping. Replace those single-use plastic bags with a long-life reusable bag, basket, backpack, handbag, wheelie bag or whatever else you can think of to carry your purchases.
What’s a good dog poop bag alternative?
- Reusable dog poop bags are available in pet stores and online. These allow you to dispose of the waste responsibly, then you can wash and reuse the bag. You can also get specialised composting systems for pet poo online, so you can turn it into fertiliser for your lawn or garden.
- Those long handled ‘pooper scoopers’ are a good alternative too.
- Compostable pet poo bags are also available from pet stores, supermarkets and online.
- For a tried-and-trusted ‘old school’ solution, you could always use yesterday’s newspaper.
What’s a good bin liner alternative?
Do you even need a bin liner? What did your grandparents do? Why not simply empty your household bin straight into the wheelie bin or council rubbish bags ready for collection? Your household bin can then be washed and returned to its usual place. Or can you reuse the same bin liner again and again?
It’s the food in your rubbish bin that creates the bad smells, so always make sure you clean your recyclables before putting them in your recycling bin. If you compost or worm farm your food waste, then you can keep the majority of food waste out of your landfill bin. If you can’t, do you know someone who does? Ask around.
Otherwise, to help keep your bin clean, food scraps (especially meat and bones), can be wrapped in paper before being thrown out. You could use newspaper or junk mail to line your bins with instead.
If none of these appeal to you, then compostable plastic bags and bin liners are available. Remember, the long-term goal is to have no waste going into landfills. A zero waste New Zealand.
Where can I get free reusable bags?
There are community groups all over the country making reusable bags. Boomerang Bags is a great example. Boomerang Bags are made from materials that were on their way to a landfill and they’re continually shared amongst their users. You may have already seen them at your local supermarket or dairy. They’re made by volunteers and are free for anyone to use. Like a boomerang, just remember to return them:
Or get crafty and have a crack at making your own reusable bags from old clothes or material that would otherwise end up at the dump. There are loads of ‘how to’ videos online to get you inspired, like this one:
Do you know of any other community groups making reusable bags that’s worth sharing with others? Please let us know.
Where can I get cheap reusable bags?
Grab one from your local supermarket, other major retail stores, or online. Or ask around, your friends might have a few spare ones they can give you.
What are reusable bags made from?
There are loads of different bag materials out there. But how environmentally-friendly are they? Check out our glossary to compare their ‘eco credentials’.
What about compostable and biodegradable plastic bags?
We hear your confusion. There are many types of plastic bags that claim to break down in different ways. But just how environmentally-friendly are they? Skip over to our glossary to find out more.
What’s a good cling wrap alternative?
A great eco-friendly alternative to plastic cling film is a reusable beeswax cotton wrap. You can buy them at most supermarkets these days. Or you can easily make them at home with a sheet of cotton and some beeswax. The beeswax provides the stiffness that lets you wrap them over bowls, plates, cheeses, sandwiches and so on. They can be composted once they’ve reached their use-by date which is about a year.
Tin foil is also a good option. If you keep it clean, it can be reused many times. Reusable tins and plastic containers are always a reliable and reusable way to store your food too.
Plastic bags are perfect for storing bait in the freezer for a fishing trip. Do you have an alternative to this?
Indeed they are. They’re useful for many similar purposes. Firstly, we recommend that you reuse that same bag over and over again. Simply give it wash if it’s starting to get a bit fishy. Alternatively, do you have a reusable container you could use instead?
After rugby, I put my muddy boots in a plastic bag before putting them in my sports bag. Any other solutions to this?
What about a reusable cloth bag just for your dirty boots instead? You can easily wash it when required.
Why don’t you offer an alternative option?
We aren’t here to drive sales for any particular alternative bag. We’re here to make Kiwis mindful of the impact their plastic habits are having on the environment. Check out our Glossary section with information on the different materials used to make bags.
Then try a quick online search to find what alternative options are out there. If you’re a New World shopper you can pick up a reusable bag in store.
To help you remember to bring your reusable bags, keep your keys, wallet, or purse in them.
Did you know?
Single-use plastic bags are used for just 12 minutes on average. But they’ll spend thousands of years contaminating our environment. Yikes!
Did you know?
If we each use just one single-use plastic bag a week we’d reduce the number by 1.35 billion. Now that’s positive change!
It’s a dirty secret most of us share. You know, that ugly stockpile of single-use plastic bags you’ve accumulated somewhere at home. You can dispose of them at dedicated Soft Plastics Recycling Collection Centres. They’re dotted all around the country. Find your nearest Soft Plastics Recycling Collection Centres.
IMPORTANT: Plastic bags MUST NOT be tossed out with your ordinary recyclable rubbish because they’ll clog up the machines at the recycling plant!
A big shout out to all you New World and PAK’nSAVE customers who are currently contributing over two thirds of the total volume of soft plastic being recycled in the country. The top 10 stores in New Zealand, by volume of plastic recycling, are all either New World or PAK’nSAVE supermarkets. Good on ya, you’re leading the way. Read more
IMPORTANT: Our local councils have different recycling capabilities. See what can be recycled in your home town or district in the links below.
Recycling processes in New Zealand
For a closer look at our typical recycling process here in New Zealand, check out these videos from the Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch Councils:
- Auckland West
- Central Hawkes Bay District
- Far North District
- Hauraki District
- Horowhenua District
- Hutt City
- Kapiti Coast
- Manawatu District
- Matamata – Piako
- New Plymouth
- Otorohanga District
- Palmerston North
- Rangitikei District
- Ruapehu District
- Taranaki South
- Thames – Coromandel
- Upper Hutt City
- Waikato District
- Waikato South
- Wairarapa District
- Wairoa District
- Waitomo District
- Western BOP
- Buller District
- Central Otago
- Clutha District
- Grey District
- Gore District
- Hurunui District
- Mackenzie District
- Queenstown Lakes District
- Selwyn District
- Tasman District
- Waimakariri District
- Waitaki District
- Westland District
What about plastic bag recycling?
We have a brilliant soft plastics recycling scheme in New Zealand that’s only recently been set up. All those involved are doing a fantastic job. But it’s only collecting and recycling a very small percentage of the overall plastic bags we use. Plus, recycled plastic is a commodity that changes with market influences, like whether or not people are buying recycled plastic and how cheap it is to produce new plastic.
Rinse your recycling. Any food that’s left behind will contaminate the recycling waste stream. That means it will probably get sent to a landfill.
What about compostable or biodegradable bags?
IMPORTANT: Compostable or biodegradable bags MUST NOT be placed in a soft plastics recycling bin. They’re made from plant-based material and not petrochemicals, so they will contaminate the soft plastics waste stream causing all of that collection to be sent to landfill. Just as petrochemical plastics must be kept out of the compost, plant-based plastics must be kept out of the recycling
Did you know?
Recycling needs to be sorted, packed, transported, shredded, washed, heated and then moulded back into plastic. It's our last recommended action!
Did you know?
Rinse your recycling. Food that’s left in the plastic you’re throwing out contaminates the recycling waste stream. So it will probably get sent to a landfill!
If you only remember one thing, remember this: whatever material your shopping bags are made of, the most important thing is to reuse them as many times as possible. That way fewer new single-use plastic bags go into circulation. In the Tips section below, check out the simple ‘life hacks’ that will help you break the old single-use plastic bag habit.
Is there a cheaper alternative to purchasing the reusable bags?
How about making your own? There are lots of ‘how to’ videos online. If you don’t have the right equipment, check out if any of the community groups in your area are already making bags. Or ask around. There are many reusable bags being given away these days. Or see if someone you know has one they don’t use.
If we decrease plastic bag usage, won’t this just increase the number of reusable bags instead? Is this creating another problem?
This is where the behaviour change comes in. The key point is to use a bag as many times as possible. Until it can’t be used any more. Yes, if we just swapped single-use plastic bags for thicker, stronger, reusable bags and only used them once, then we’d just be going sideways. But if we all get a bag or three that we reuse many times, then we are winning! Remember, behaviour change is challenging and it takes some commitment. Don’t be too hard on yourself if you forget your bag. Please check out our tips on how to remember your reusable bags when you go shopping.
You’d need to use a reusable bag heaps of times to have a smaller environmental impact than a plastic bag. Some of them won’t last very long because they’re cheaply made. What can I do about that?
Yes, the key is to use your reusable bag as many times as possible until it’s no longer usable, regardless of what it’s made of. And yes, the better the bag quality, the longer it will last. It’s a good idea to start your journey by reusing a plastic bag or two as many times as you can. Then once you have remembered to take a bag with you 9 or 10 times in a row you can upgrade to a better quality reusable bag with the confidence you’re not going to forget it, or lose it.
How do you remember to bring your reusable bags?
- As soon as you unpack your shopping, put your reusable bags back in the car while it’s fresh in your mind. Some people leave them on the front passenger seat, or put them over a head rest so they don’t forget them.
- Hang your reusable bags next to the front door so you see them on your way out. That way you’ll be reminded to take them with you if you’re heading to the shops.
- Write ‘Reusable Bags’ on the top of your shopping list. When you check your list before you leave home you’ll be reminded to take them with you.
- Activate the iBeacons function on your phone so you receive a TXT reminder when you arrive at participating stores.
- Tell your friends and family about your mission to stop using single-use plastic bags. By announcing your goal, you’ll feel more committed and the people you’ve told will keep tabs on your progress.
- Invite your friends, family, colleagues and teammates to join you and say “Bags Not” to plastic bags too. The more people you have in your life doing it, the easier it will be to build momentum. Make it a competition and see who uses the least bags in a month.
- Keep your car keys or your wallet inside your reusable bag.
- Keep a reusable bag inside your handbag, backpack, suitcase, briefcase or laptop bag so you’ll have one when it’s needed.
- Put a reminder note in your car. Hang it from the rear view mirror or stick it to the dashboard. It’ll remind you to take your reusable bags to the shops.
Do you have tips that work for you that you can share?
Did you know?
If every single-use plastic bag was used to carry shopping twice, we’d reduce the number by half – that’s 530 million fewer plastic bags!
Did you know?
On average, each New Zealander gets given around 355 single-use plastic bags every year at the shops.
Did you know?
If you use reusable bags your whole life, you’d stop around 25,000 plastic bags from going into circulation. (70 years x 355 bags per year)
“Bags Not” reckons that sorting out our plastic bag problem is a great starting point for restoring this jewel of a home we share here in the South Pacific.
An instant pick-me-up
Picking up someone else’s rubbish is no big deal. If every New Zealander picked up one piece of litter each day, that’s 4.5 million less pieces of trash contaminating our cities, parks, roadsides, rivers and beaches daily. In one year that adds up to over 1.6 billion less pieces of trash. Now that is a big deal! And you know what, you’ll feel better doing something good to help restore our clean green reputation.
Maybe picking up rubbish on your own isn’t your thing. You could always pitch in and team up with a group initiative in your community. There are some fantastic folks out there who are organising groups. They usually supply gloves, sacks and sometimes coveralls. You’ll have other people to chat with and, together, you’ll see some significant results from your collective efforts.
Discover how easy and rewarding it is to be part of the solution. Check out these other awesome initiatives and see how you can lend a hand:
If there isn’t a group programme in your community, maybe you could rally the troops and organise one of your own. The good guys at Sustainable Coastlines have made all their know-how about planning a clean-up operation available to anyone. You can tap into their knowledge about health and safety considerations, equipment requirements, best time of day, how to deal with hazardous stuff and so on at.
Another organisation doing an excellent job of restoring the environment is Litefoot. They offer a free service to sports clubs across the country, LiteClub, to help them improve their sustainability performance and at the same time saving more money to put back into sports. They use our love of sports to connect with Kiwis, spread a message about better use of resources and creating less waste – inspiring New Zealanders to be environmental champions. Howszat?!
More trees please
As well as removing plastic from our environment, a huge way to contribute to its restoration is by planting trees. Lots of them, especially natives. Why’s that? Trees, plants and algae all breath in carbon dioxide and breath out oxygen. They also reduce soil erosion, return nutrients to the land, filter waterways and provide habitats for wildlife.
Get involved with a tree planting programme near you:
- Trees That Count
- Tanes Trees
- Trees for Travellers
- Million Metres
- Dept. of Conservation
But fossil fuels are the real bad guys, they’re killing the Earth. Why don’t they start with green fuel alternatives?
There’s so much we can all be doing to prevent catastrophic climate change. Our hope is that “Bags Not” inspires New Zealanders to be more aware of our impact on the environment as a whole. There are many more problems to solve, but with that comes great opportunities. These are problems the entire world is facing. If we can solve them here then we can become a world leader in helping other countries do the same.
We believe the plastic bag problem is a great place to start as it requires a simple change in our habits to make some really big gains. How can we expect to inspire future generations to solve the other big issues when we haven’t yet sorted out the pesky plastic bag problem?
Shouldn’t we be focused on getting the plastic out of the oceans?
Yes. And we encourage Kiwis to get involved with clean ups wherever they can, but we also need to stop any more plastic going into our oceans. After all, prevention is better than a cure.