The mayors of Auckland, Wellington and Dunedin have jointly launched an open letter to other mayors around the country to join the call on central government to institute a national levy on single use plastic bags, or to give local authorities the power to do so themselves.
This initiative further supports the remit passed at the 2015 Local Government New Zealand (LGNZ) Conference. LGNZ President Lawrence Yule says this position has strong sector support.
Sending a strong message
The letter will go out to all mayors, and be presented to the Minister for the Environment to send a strong message about where the people of New Zealand stand on this issue.
"We have to stop dumping hundreds of millions of non-biodegradable plastic bags into landfill every year," said Auckland Mayor Phil Goff.
"We know that a small charge on single-use bags drastically changes consumer behaviours. If Government doesn't want to apply this charge itself, then it should empower councils to do so," he said.
1.6 billion bags a year
In Auckland, 17,000 tonnes of soft plastics were sent to landfill, as well as 200,000 tonnes of general plastics.
Currently, Kiwis use around 1.6 billion plastic bags a year. On average, a plastic bag is used for 12 minutes before it enters the waste stream.
A 2016 WasteMINZ report released on Thursday shows that nearly two thirds of Kiwis support a levy on plastic bags if charities benefit from the levy.
Learning from overseas
Wellington Mayor Justin Lester said a levy in the UK had been a great success. "When the UK brought in just a 5-pence levy in 2015, they've seen an 86 per cent decrease in the number of plastic bags going to landfills. This has been proven to work overseas."
In Washington DC, a 5-cent-per-bag tax generated nearly $2 million in revenue, which has been allocated toward environmental and other social issues.
"The funding from a levy could be returned to local authorities to be spent on waste reduction programmes to protect the environment."
Central government action needed
Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull says many are taking what action they can on the issue, but that central government action is needed.
"We're currently looking at what we can do locally to reduce the number of these bags going to our landfill, but the truth is they need to be stopped at the source. Local government is only empowered to do so much, and we need central government to step up as well.
"Kiwis are rightly proud of our environment, and this is a practical, simple step we could take to protect it."