News | 9 June 2017

Mayors launch open letter calling for levy on single use plastic bags

The Mayors of Auckland, Wellington, Dunedin have jointly launched an open letter to Mayors around the country to join the call on central government to institute a national levy on single use plastic bags, or to give local authorities the power to do so themselves.

Waste at the landfill.

This initiative further supports the remit passed at the 2015 LGNZ Conference.

LGNZ President Lawrence Yule says this position has strong sector support with last year's remit receiving 89% of members voting support.

The letter will go out to all Mayors, and be presented to the Minister for the Environment to send a strong message about where the people of New Zealand stand on this issue.

“We have to stop dumping hundreds of millions of non-biodegradable plastic bags into landfill every year,” said Auckland Mayor Phil Goff.

“We know that a small charge on single-use bags drastically changes consumer behaviours. If Government doesn’t want to apply this charge itself, then it should empower councils to do so,” he said.

In Auckland, 17, 000 tonnes of soft plastics were sent to landfill, as well as 200,000 tonnes of general plastics.

Currently, Kiwis use around 1.6 billion plastic bags a year. On average, a plastic bag is used for 12 minutes before it enters the waste stream. A 2016 WasteMINZ report released on Thursday shows that nearly two thirds of Kiwis support a levy on plastic bags if charities benefit from the levy.

Wellington Mayor Justin Lester said that a levy in the UK had been a great success. “When the UK brought in just a 5p levy in 2015, they’ve seen an 86% decrease in the number of plastic bags going to landfills. This has been proven to work overseas.”

A study by the University of New Hampshire shows that while all policies aimed at reducing plastic bag waste had their pros and cons, reducing plastic bag usage was most successful when taxes on bags were high enough to trigger a behaviour change.

In Washington DC, a 5-cent per-bag tax on plastic bags generated nearly $2 million in revenue, which has been allocated toward environmental and other social issues.

In Portland, Oregon reusable bag sales increased 350 percent at one major grocery chain as a result of a levy.

In Breckenridge, a 40 percent reduction in bags was seen the first year after the tax on plastic bags took effect.

“The funding from a levy could be returned to local authorities to be spent on waste reduction programmes to protect the environment,” Lester said.

9000 tonnes of plastic waste is dumped into the Wellington landfill every year. Last year, $20,000 was spent on fencing to capture bags blown out of landfills by Wellington winds and staff spend hundreds of hours each year physically chasing plastic bags across the surrounding valleys, polluting waterways and threatening wildlife.

Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull says many are taking what action they can on the issue, but that central government action is needed.

“We’re currently looking at what we can do locally to reduce the number of these bags going to our landfill, but the truth is they need to be stopped at the source. Local government is only empowered to do so much, and we need central government to step up as well.”

“The environmental costs of dealing with plastic bags are ultimately borne by ratepayers. A levy would not only help to reduce the problem at source, but levy funding could be returned to councils for them to spend on further waste minimisation and environmental clean-up measures.”

“Kiwis are rightly proud of our environment, and this is a practical, simple step we could take to protect it.”