The government of New Zealand unveiled plans to phase out single-use plastic bags Friday.
The country's prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, said in a statement that the phasing-out of plastic bags would help to "safeguard New Zealand's clean, green reputation."
"Every year in New Zealand we use hundreds of millions of single-use plastic bags — a mountain of bags, many of which end up polluting our precious coastal and marine environments and cause serious harm to all kinds of marine life," Ardern added. "And all of this when there are viable alternatives for consumers and business."
The New Zealand government has now launched a consultation on the mandatory phase-out of single-use plastic shopping bags in the country. New Zealanders have until September 14 to share their views on the plans. The consultation includes options relating to the date of when the phase-out is to be completed, the kind of bags to be included, and whether any retailers should be exempt.
The consultation document, published by the Ministry for the Environment, states that discarded plastic bags in New Zealand can end up in municipal landfills, be sent to voluntary recycling schemes, or "end up in the environment."
Worldwide, the issue of plastic pollution is a serious one. Europeans, for example, produce 25 million tons of plastic waste per year according to the European Commission. Less than 30 percent of this is collected for recycling.
New Zealand's plans were welcomed by a number of retailers in the country, including major supermarket Countdown. Countdown's general manager for corporate affairs, Kiri Hannifin, said that a nationwide phase-out would "go a long way towards stemming the flow of plastic ending up in our waterways."
Hannifin added that the plans would also reduce pressure on recycling systems and "provide a stronger basis for New Zealanders to change our attitudes and behaviors towards plastic use and plastic waste."
Countdown has already made a commitment to phase out single use plastic bags by the end of this year. Starting next week, one third of all its supermarkets will have already transitioned to reusable bags.