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Asia Minute: New Zealand Joins the Plastic Bag Ban

Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

It’s been almost two months since Oahu joined the rest of the state in outlawing single-use plastic bags. In the Asia Pacific, the latest country to ban the use of those plastic bags is New Zealand.

New Zealanders go through more than 750 million single use plastic bags every year. That’s what its government says, but that math will be changing.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says single-use plastic bags will be banned next year. She said the move was backed by a petition signed by 65,000 people, adding that plastic pollution is the single biggest issue that schoolchildren write to her about.

You might be surprised to find that on a per capita basis, New Zealanders produce even more trash than Americans. The World Bank studies these things, and in calculations published earlier this year, the Bank said New Zealand produces roughly 8 pounds of garbage per person every day — 10th highest rate in the world.

In the United States, it’s a little more than 5.5 pounds a person — still making it 19th in the world.

New Zealand’s ban on single-use plastic bags will phase in relatively rapidly — in six months. The fines are pretty steep: the equivalent of about 66,000 U.S. dollars for any store that continues to hand out plastic bags.

Credit Ben Mierement / National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

According to the United Nations, more than 60 countries now ban or charge extra for plastic bags.

The first country to put restrictions on single use plastic is also in the Asia Pacific: Bangladesh in 2002.

Bill Dorman has been the news director at Hawaiʻi Public Radio since 2011.
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