7 May 2018

Countdown begins moves to go plastic-free

8:03 pm on 7 May 2018

Countdown is making the move to plastic-free checkouts with 10 supermarkets the first to test the changes, however one critic says the move doesn't go far enough.

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Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

From 21 May, 10 of Countdown's supermarkets across the country will no longer supply single-use plastic bags at the checkout.

The first 10 stores selected for the phase are Dargaville, Aviemore Drive (located in Highland Park, Auckland), Roselands (Papakura, Auckland), Northwest (Massey, Auckland), Johnsonville Mall, Wellington, Victoria Ave (Whanganui), Redwoodtown (Blenheim), Ferrymead (Christchurch), Grey Lynn (Richmond Road, Auckland), and Gisborne.

Zero Waste network chair Marty Hoffart praised Countdown for removing bags from checkouts but said the move did not go far enough.

Mr Hoffart said the government needed to put pressure on all retailers to phase out plastic bag use.

"What the supermarkets are doing is voluntary, which is great, but I think there needs to be more pressure from central government because ... it's the governments that can make changes from those retailers that won't do it voluntarily," he said.

Mr Hoffart said New Zealand needed to lead the way on banning plastic bags ahead of countries like France, the United Kingdom and China, who have already banned them.

Central government should get tougher with the packaging industry to manage the amount of packaging that ended up in the environment, Mr Hoffart said.

Countdown said 350 million single-use plastic bags were used every year at its checkouts across the country.

200214. Photo Diego Opatowski / RNZ. Countdown logo

Photo: RNZ

Customers had already reduced their use of plastic bags by 16 percent since it announced the move last year, the company said.

Countdown spokesperson Kiri Hannifin said the company was absolutely convinced there was support for the change and that it was the right thing to do for the environment.

The chain aimed for customers to bring their own reusable bags for staff to pack in, however other options would still be available for those who come without.

Countdown acknowledged that making the shift for some customers may be a challenge, with the two major concerns being a loss of rubbish bin liners and bags to pick up dog faeces.

"People getting their groceries packed with single-use plastic bags has become quite a habit and I think it's just a matter of changing habits, remembering to bring your own bags," Ms Hannifin said.

The initiative will be rolled out across all Countdown supermarkets by the end of the year.

Associate Environment Minister Eugenie Sage said New Zealanders all needed to be doing more to reduce their use of single-use plastic bags.

"The government needs to make it easier for people to do the right thing but we all have responsibility when we buy things - to look at do we really need them, how are they designed, can they be re-used at the end of their life, do we need that single-use plastic bag, [or] can we take our own bag, which is always the better option."

Ms Sage said the government was seeking advice from officials on the best methods to phase out bags.

"Overseas there's been a levy used in areas like the UK and bans put in place in other juristictions, so we're looking at the best way of doing this."

While Countdown is the first to cross the finish line, Foodstuffs supermarket's New World and PaknSave are also heading towards a plastic-free shopping experience.

New World has also committed to becoming plastic bag free by the end of the year but it is staggering its approach through 10 cent voluntary donations for plastic bags or a five cent discount for customers who bring their own.

PaknSave charges for plastic bags and offers cardboard boxes as an alternative.

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