Editorial: Plastic bags and the move to a greener economy
EDITORIAL: It's excellent news that both major supermarket chains will ban single-use plastic bags by the end of next year.
Plastic bags are an ecological scourge, and banning them is clearly the right thing to do. But much more remains to be done.
Greenpeace says "people power" put an end to the bags. There is some truth in this. Public opinion is clearly moving against their use.
Foodstuffs, for example, had to abandon a 5c bag levy it imposed in 2009 after a customer revolt. But when it recently asked customers to pick between various levies or no charge, many protested that it should have included the option of a ban.
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This is a fascinating case where the customers seem to be leading the commercial interests in an eco-friendly direction.
Partly as a result, perhaps, there is now a kind of competition between the two chains to do the right thing, with Countdown doing rather better than Foodstuffs.
This also is welcome, and puts paid to the idea that there is a clash between profits and environmental protection. We seem to be entering an age when the commercial advantages of going green are becoming more and more obvious.
Customers are not only ahead of the companies, it seems: they are miles ahead of the National-led Government, which has been slow to move on this issue.
But the movement towards the green economy continues in any case. The move to ban plastic bags also points to further problems that need a green solution.
The supermarkets themselves now concede that the general problem of plastic packaging requires attention.
We have grown used to elaborate, expensive, and eco-unfriendly packaging of nearly all kinds of food, just as we used to take it for granted that a trip to the supermarket required the routine use of plastic bags to carry the stuff back home.
Everyone now sees that there needs to be a different way of doing things. Both customers and companies can win.
Local Government New Zealand also points out the supermarkets are not the only retailers using plastic bags, and action needs to be taken on a wider front.
President Dave Cull calls for a compulsory levy on these bags, and suggests it won't happen without government action.
There is also an issue of fairness. Any solution to plastic bags should apply to all retailers, says Retail New Zealand general manager Greg Harford, and not just be left to the supermarkets.
All of this in turn is leading to a re-thinking by people about their personal responsibilities to the environment. If we have conceded that it's no longer okay to use plastic bags at the supermarket or elsewhere, what else do we need to change about our lifestyles?
The call to a more sustainable economy is spreading, and more and more people are heeding it. That looks like progress brought about by people making their own choices rather than leaving it to the government.