|+ The war on plastic
During the last fortnight in Australia, supermarket chains Coles and Woolworths have removed single-use plastic bags from their stores.
They are now scrambling to combat "bag rage" as frustrated shoppers vent their anger over the removal. One man put his hands around a supermarket worker's throat, the West Australian newspaper reported. Grocery stores are putting on more staff to help customers get used to the change.
More than 8 million tonnes of plastic ends up in the world's oceans each year, according to United Nations Environment Programme figures.
The UN wants to eliminate single-use plastic by 2022 and says more than 60 countries have so far taken steps to ban or reduce plastic consumption.
Around 40 countries - not New Zealand yet - have banned single-use plastic bags, with charges or outright prohibitions in place in China, Bangladesh and about 15 African countries (see below).
Samoa plans to ban single-use plastic bags and straws, with an eventual goal of including plastic and styrofoam containers and cups.
Even terrorist group Al-shabaab banned plastic bags in areas of Somalia arguing the waste is bad for the environment.
Come on New Zealand!
Good news comes from Martinborough who went plastic bag free yesterday. And some supermarkets are cautiously trying to lead the way, with Countdown withdrawing plastic bags from ten of it's stores and New World planning to by the end of the year. Pak' n Save has always charged for plastic bags and provided cardboard boxes for customers as an alternative.
Forest and Bird presented research to the government this week that seabirds are more at risk of dying due to plastic in New Zealand than anywhere else in the world.
The embarrassment continues. US researchers found earlier this year that Oriental Bay in Wellington has some of the worlds worst plastic pollution. Researcher Marcus Eriksen from the Five Gyres Institute revealed the shocking find. "I can say, having done this around the world 60,000 miles of sailing in all oceans studying plastic, this is one of the worst beaches I have seen," he said.
Our clean green image continues to take a hit, with a recycling sector in crisis. This Spinoff article couldn't have put it better "When it comes to recycling and reducing waste, we are in danger of becoming a global embarrassment hanging with the bottom of the pack. We may be talking the talk but we’re definitely not walking the walk."
New Zealand can learn from places like Kenya, where a plastic bag ban has had both positive and negative impacts. There are fewer plastic bags clogging storm water drains and filling fishing nets in lakes. Urban slums are cleaner and more hygienic, with fewer flying toilets (yes, you've read that right) making streets and paths treacherous, especially for wheelchair users.
But biodegradable bags are not cost-effective for low-income street vendors, and the ban has affected packaging for exporters.
The cleanest and most established example is in Rwanda, which brought in a ban in 2008. (*See this article from the Guardian about how European countries could learn from African countries' treatment of refugees.)
Join the challenge and ‘Choose To Refuse’ single-use plastic during July.