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Harsh penalties for bag ban rule-breakers

By Amber-Leigh Woolf and Liz McDonald | 21 Jan 2019 20:19

Plastic Bag Ban

Businesses caught handing out plastic bags to customers after July 1 could face six-figure fines.

The Government announced in August plans to phase out single-use plastic shopping bags, later opting for a ban after feedback that included 9000 submissions.

Ministry for the Environment documents confirm rule-breakers could be fined up to $100,000, depending on the seriousness of the offence.  

A spokeswoman said they were "working to get the word out" in time and would work with retailers first. Court action would be a last resort, she said. 

"Any fine would be set by a judge following conviction in court." 

The ban will apply to all new bags with plastic up to 70 microns in thick and handles, including light-weight plastic bags, heavier boutique-style bags and the "emergency" alternative bags offered by some supermarkets.  It will extend to those made of "degradable" plastic.

Bags Not founder Nick Morrison said fines were the right way to enforce the ban as an incentive was needed.

After July 1, there could be some overlap as businesses caught up to the change, Morrison said. 

"I'd lean towards giving people a warning first, working with businesses instead of just giving them a slap on the hand." 

It would be a fundamental change for how businesses were operating, he said.

Suzy Sun, manager of Christchurch's Barrington Giftware, was not aware of the upcoming rule change or possible fines. Her store used both paper and plastic bags. 

"Thank you for telling me, we will have to start thinking about it," she said when contacted by Stuff.

She said they used fewer plastic bags now because so many shoppers brought in their own bags. Some customers already asked for a paper rather than plastic bag.

Plastic Bag Ban3

Businesses who continue to provide plastic bags after July 1 could end up in court facing fines of up to $100,000.

Kathmandu spokeswoman Helen McCombie said all of the company's outdoor gear shops used only bags made from recycled paper.

"We got rid of plastic bags a couple of years ago."

Annabel Turley, who owns three Unichem Pharmacy outlets in Christchurch, said they were having new paper bags designed but "we don't use many plastic bags now, except for bigger purchases".

"Most Kiwi customers don't want plastic now. But the tourists don't care and they want a plastic bag."

Retail New Zealand's Greg Harford said some businesses would just stop providing bags altogether. Those shifting to paper would incur increased costs as it was "significantly more expensive to produce and print than plastic".

Stores wanting branded bags to promote themselves were probably selling dearer products, such as fashion items, he said.

Plastic Bag Ban2

Shops will be sent guidelines on the new rules before the ban takes effect.

Harford said despite the upcoming awareness campaigns, he expected some retailers would still be taken unawares.

"I would hope that the Government will be taking an educational approach, rather than fining people in the first instance. Nobody wants to be in breach of the law, and customers have really changed how they think about it too."

The new rules have been bought in under the Waste Minimisation Act 2008, which allows for the Minister for the Environment to outlaw the sale of any product that could cause seriously harm when disposed of. The Act's fines of up to $100,000 existed before the plastic bag ban.

Implementation guidelines for businesses to remove bags will be out in March and April. The Ministry will monitor and receive reports of non-compliance, and cover the costs of education and enforcement.

More than 40 countries ban, partly ban, fine or tax people and companies for using plastic bags. 

In Mumbai, India, authorities have criminalised the use of plastic bags with fines of up to 25,000 rupees ($520 NZD) and jail sentences for repeat offenders. In 2003, South Africa introduced fines of 100,000 rand ($10,790 NZD) or a 10-year jail term. In 2017, Kenya topped that with a fine of about $59,557 NZD. 


Source: Stuff

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