A growing initiative

The critics say ACT's weekly podcast, Politics in Full Sentences, is getting better each week. We summarise last week's discussion hosted by former President Ruwan Premathilaka in this essay. The podcast is streamed live on Facebook each week at 7:00pm on a Thursday. If you're not around to watch it live on Thursday night, you can catch the recording on YouTube, Apple Podcasts, or Podcasts NZ. Live watchers can ask questions and give feedback in real time, but we also welcome feedback to [email protected]. If you agree or disagree with what's said, want another topic discussed, or want to see a particular guest on the show, feel free to get in touch.

Last week

Last Thursday, the team tackled the insanity of the plastic bag ban. The Government has banned something that makes negligible difference to pollution at massive cost of inconvenience while the real problem remains unsolved. There is a real problem with plastic in the oceans but it is not caused by New Zealand. New Zealand's contribution by plastic bags getting into the sea is apparently not even measurable. The Associate Environment Minister Eugenie Sage has told ACT she doesn't know how many plastic bags from New Zealand get into the oceans.

Not many, if any

The only official report on the plastic bag ban says 0.01 per cent of the volume of landfill is made up of plastic bags. It could be that they're all in the ocean, but waste audits do not support this idea.


The really irritating thing about the ban is the self-congratulation that accompanies the ban. We have seen people proudly announce that they pick up dog poo with the same bag and wash it between walks. Meanwhile the more sensible residents of Rodney, where ACT's Deputy Leader Beth Houlbrooke is Local Board Chair, are asking the council to provide dog poo bags. We are not making this up.

Unintended consequences

Grocers tell us that the section for plastic bags of all kinds - bin liners, dog poo bags, you name it - has tripled in size in the supermarkets where they work. The same supermarkets are doing a roaring trade in much thicker bags, which are still legal, in place of the much thinner bags customers used to expect for free.

A 7,500 tonne missed opportunity

We are told New Zealanders used to use 750 million plastic bags per year. A one cent levy on every bag would have raised $7.5 million per year to fund a clean up. At $1 per kilogram, New Zealand could have removed 7,500 tonnes of plastic from the ocean every year. More than anyone else is doing.

How much does this weigh?

At 5.5 grams each, New Zealand’s annual plastic bag use weighed about four tonnes. We don't know if anyone can take plastic out of the ocean for $1 a kilogram, but even if it was $1000 per kilogram to pick up plastic, and even if every New Zealand plastic bag went in the ocean (not remotely close), we'd still be removing twice as much as we put in. Again, better than most, if not all, countries.

Other ideas

As discussed in Politics in Full Sentences, we could help the countries who host ten rivers that put 93 per cent of plastic in the ocean practice proper waste management like New Zealand does. If we are going to do foreign aid, why not do something good for the planet. And you can keep your plastic bags, too.

Such a big deal

Banning plastic bags is not the worst thing this government has done, but it may be the silliest. We talk about it because it shows how impractical this Government is. More focused on marketing that substance, it makes us all poorer and our environment worse.

That's all for now

For the full discussion, please tune into Politics in Full Sentences at the links above, and look out for this week's episode coming up on Thursday night with a special guest.