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NZ's Plastic Bag Efforts Failing, Says Group

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Fuseworks Media
NZ's Plastic Bag Efforts Failing, Says Group

Wellington, Sept 1 NZPA - New Zealand's efforts to reduce plastic bag use are underwhelming and a supermarket's backtrack on charging for bags shows major players are doing as little as possible, say environmental campaigners.

Packaging Accord figures, released today, showed reduction targets had been exceeded, with a total reduction of 22 percent, or 157 million bags taken out of circulation.

The 2004 Packaging Accord, signed by both Foodstuffs and Progressive Enterprises supermarket chains, originally aimed for a 20 percent reduction.

Over half of the reduction was achieved in the past two years, as the campaign to involve shoppers gained traction, said Packaging Council executive director Paul Curtis.

"This is a major achievement."

However, the Wanaka-based GetReal campaign for reducing plastic bag use questioned whether the Packaging Accord's 22 percent reduction was really a major achievement.

"Down our way 50 percent is a pass mark and you don't get a pat on the back for much under 80 percent," said GetReal's Sue Coutts.

It took five years to get to 22 percent using a voluntary approach but Foodstuffs has achieved 50 percent in three weeks with a 5c charge on plastic supermarket bags, she said.

"It is easy to see which approach has been the most effective."

However, Foodstuffs Wellington will axe the compulsory plastic bag charge it introduced only four weeks ago.

From now on, the charge will be voluntary at the company's New World and Four Square stores, with few customers likely to choose to pay it.

It is a major backtrack for Foodstuffs, which trumpeted its "commitment" to the charge when it was mooted in May. The decision exposed the weaknesses with voluntary product stewardship systems, Ms Coutts said.

It was amazing Foodstuffs Wellington could drop the 5c bag charge, despite achieving a 50 percent reduction in bag use and reporting support from the majority of their customers, she said.

It was "profoundly depressing" knowing that major players were still justifying their "do as little as possible approach", she said.

Foodstuffs Wellington managing director Tony McNeil said the company had to respond to customer complaints.

"Some people were refusing to pay it and deciding that they might want to shop elsewhere.

"It's still our policy to charge the 5c. But if somebody says they're not happy to pay it we don't want them walking away disgruntled so we're not going to charge them."

Ms Coutts said Foodstuffs had been "trying to implement a scheme which should have been nationwide to begin with".

"With a lack of support from the Government, a lack of support from their industry organisation, and a lack of support from their competitors, they have been left in an awkward position," she told Radio New Zealand.

The policy backtrack was "pretty bad timing" for the company, as Keep New Zealand Beautiful clean-up week got under way on Friday, with New World a major sponsor, she said.

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