27 Feb 2018

Call for NZ to become leader against plastic pollution

8:46 pm on 27 February 2018

"Watch this space" - those were the confident words of Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage, after receiving a petition with 65,000 signatures calling for a ban of single use plastic bags.

Tina Ngata leads the group of protesters.

Tina Ngata leads the group of protesters. Photo: RNZ / Katie Scotcher

More than 100 people were at Parliament today, alongside the Jane Goodall Institute and Greenpeace, to hand over the petition and a letter, endorsed by former Prime Minister Helen Clark.

Dressed in plastic bags, holding banners, supporters chanted as they arrived at parliament.

Tina Ngata, an advocate for sustainability and indigenous rights, led the crowd.

She said New Zealand, a country often at the forefront of change, had fallen behind.

"We certainly aren't the leaders in this space, but we can be again.

"It's just going to take some really forthright movement and some really forthright decisions...So then I think we can start to get back on that pathway of being leaders again," she said.

New Zealanders use over a billion plastic bags a year, and Laurie Foon from the Sustainable Business Network said she was worried about the impact the bags would have on the future.

"I'm also standing here for my children because I'm an eternally positive soul, but when I am really becoming concerned about what our planet is going to look like for their future - that's the emotion that's coming up.

"I also feel embarrassed as a human that we've actually got to this point," she said.

The National-led government didn't support a levy on plastic bags, but had been in talks with councils and the retail industry about it.

Eugenie Sage said New Zealand could do better.

"We use about 1.6 billion each year in New Zealand. They are a convenience...but they have significant impacts on wildlife.

"We can do what other countries have done, thirty other countries have legislated to get rid of single use plastic bags or put in levies," she said.

The petition would be tabled in Parliament, then referred to select committee and an option would be presented within months, Ms Sage said.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs