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Mainstreaming of conscious consumers

Phasing out all single-use plastics is the new goal of Plastic Bag Free Tairawhiti (PBFT).

Single-use plastic bags were an obvious starting point but the focus will shift to other forms of single-use plastics, says spokesperson for PBFT Bess Halley.

“Now that we’ve achieved the goal of single-use plastic bags being phased out by Government, we will shift the focus to other forms of single-use plastic, such as food packaging and takeaway coffee cups.

“We will be encouraging local businesses to consider alternatives to all single-use plastics and to be receptive to customers’ requests for buying items in reusable containers.

“We will also continue to lobby the Government to introduce mandatory product stewardship schemes as these will be instrumental in reducing the amount of single-use plastics entering our waste schemes,” Mrs Halley says.

Businesses should be actively working to reduce waste across all areas of the supply chain, Mrs Halley says.

“Consumers can play an important role in waste reduction simply by providing feedback to businesses when plastic has been used unnecessarily.

“It’s great to see the zero-waste movement and conscious consumers becoming more mainstream.

“The more customers demand change, the more likely businesses will listen.”

Single-use plastic shopping bags have started disappearing from stores in Gisborne as New Zealand phases them out before the regulations come into force from July 1.

Plastic Bag Free Tairawhiti spokesperson Bess Halley talks to The Gisborne Herald’s Matai O’Connor about the shift in focus to other forms of single-use plastic.

This includes the lightweight plastic bags commonly found at supermarkets, takeaway food and other retail checkouts, as well as heavier boutique-style shopping bags.

Mrs Halley says most members of the public have been receptive and willing to change their habits.

Most people keen to farewell single-use bags“Many businesses have been supportive of the move away from single-use plastic bags, and already ceased to give out single-use bags.

Mrs Halley says most people in the community are really keen to say goodbye to single-use plastic bags.

“Some people are concerned they will no longer be able to use bags as bin liners, but there is always an alternative, more sustainable option available.

There are many options for reusable bags, says Mrs Halley.

“Reusable bags don’t need to be fancy or expensive.

“The best options are made from up-cycled fabric, or natural fibres such as hemp, jute and harakeke (flax).

“People are offering workshops for weaving harakeke baskets which would make great reusable bags.

“PBFT hold monthly sewing bees where community members can come along to create bags out of scrap fabric.

“The thicker plastic ‘reusable’ bags being used by Countdown at the moment are not a good option,” Mrs Halley says.

Gisborne Countdown store manager Lisa Brown says Countdown has been single-use plastic carrier bag-free since May 21 2018 and other stores around the country started being plastic bag free since October 15.

“The response from customers has been really positive.

“It is clear how passionate Kiwis are about protecting the environment today and for generations to come.

“This passion has seen customers adapt really well to the change.

A Countdown spokesperson says over the last year alone, Countdown has removed more than 100 tonnes of plastic from the produce section and are continuing to move to recycled plastic packaging for bakery items.

“We’ve also made a commitment to using 100 percent reusable, recyclable or compostable packaging in Countdown brands by 2025 or earlier.”

“In the first instance, we’re working to reduce plastic and packaging wherever we can.

“We’ve also been very open about needing to find and introduce alternatives to plastic and other single-use packaging.

“However, we don’t just want to provide customers with a slightly better alternative, we want to provide them with viable, long-term solutions.

“This work will take some time to get right, because we have to make sure any alternatives meet a range of requirements including things like ensuring food safety, maintaining freshness, and an ability to withstand transportation.

“We also have to make sure these alternatives meet the needs of customers and team members.”

Pak’nSave has been single-use plastic bag- free since January 1 but customers have been using boxes and reusable bags forever, says Foodstuffs NZ’s Antoinette Laird.

Customers reacted very positively to the change, Mrs Laird says.

“We had signalled the change more than 12 months ago and ensured we communicated clearly with customers throughout the change to help them adjust.

Pak’nSave offers boxes to use to carry products and has a range of affordable reusable bags, says Mrs Laird.

“We’re all about reducing plastic packaging and other forms of packaging across the board.

“We committed to 100 percent of our instore and private label packaging being reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025, and we’re well down that path already.

“It’s important to understand that packaging is essential for many products; it protects and preserves and helps make transportation and sales faster and more cost effective.

“Packaging carries all sorts of essential information like country of origin, allergens, ingredients, information about fats, sodium and sugars.

“Packaging also carries pricing information, how to contact a brand if something goes wrong and usage instructions.”

The Green Party has set up a website where people can write a letter asking businesses not to use excessive plastic packaging on products.

Halley (right) at Waikanae Beach with her son Louis Dibble and Nicky Solomon, co-founder of the group, with some reusable “Flag the Bag” bags. Pictures by Rebecca Grunwell
Some of the many reusable bags now available including a basket woven from harakeke (flax).