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Plastic bag-free status for Palmy street ?

Plastic bag-free status for Palmy street ?

The rustle of plastic could be relegated to the dustbin of history – Palmerston North CBD’s hippest precinct is poised to become New Zealand’s first plastic bag-free street, thanks to a campaign spear-headed by a Massey University environmental anthropologist.

Dr Trisia Farrelly and fellow volunteers from Carrying Our Future ¬ – a lobby group working towards a plastic bag-free future for Palmerston North – launches its ‘Plastic Bag Free Friday on George’ this week.

Dr Farrelly, from the School of People, Environment and Planning, says the aim of the campaign on George Street is “to establish the first ‘plastic bag free street’ in New Zealand,” as part of a broader campaign to reduce and ultimately eliminate plastic shopping bags in Palmerston North.

Campaigners, including Palmerston North City Councillor Rachel Bowen, say they have the full support of George Street retailers for the initiative. On the day of the launch they will provide re-usable cloth bags made from organic fibre to retailers who do not already provide them to customers.

Their message to George Street’s eateries, clothing boutiques, hair salons, book and gift shops: it is time to do something about the challenges associated with the production and disposal of single-use plastic bags.

By starting small with a one day a week plastic bag-free commitment, they hope the concept will take hold and extend to more days and more streets. “It’s aspirational, and it’s a good start to get some conversation and action going”, she says. “We want to convey a positive message – almost half of the retailers already provide plastic bag alternatives, so we are celebrating those who already do this and supporting those who are keen to offer alternatives.”

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“There’s a real drive to establish the first plastic bag-free street in New Zealand among the George Street retailers,” Dr Farrelly says. “Those restaurants and cafes offering takeaways will need some time and support to move toward fully participating in ‘Plastic Bag Free Friday on George’, but they are very open to getting involved.”

Palmerston North could lead the way as the first New Zealand town to get rid of plastic shopping bags altogether, she says. New Zealanders use around 1.6 billion of them every year, and an estimated 40,000 plastic shopping bags are disposed of in landfill in New Zealand every hour.

“Plastic bags break down into invisible micro-particles – they don't go away. They break down in the air, water, soil and sea. The toxins in plastic bags are highly damaging for the environment and its fauna, for the marine ecosystem and for human health,” she says.

The launch event on Friday, September 25, will include a free outdoor movie screening of Bag It: Is Your Life Too Plastic? The 2010 US documentary on the harmful effects of plastics on land ecosystems, the marine environment and the human body has been described as “touching and flat-out funny”, albeit on a serious topic, Dr Farrelly says. Volunteers will be giving away free popcorn and reusable shopping bags at the screening outside 50 George Street. Retailers who already offer reusable plastic bags will be promoted at the event.

Massey students with the Volunteer Resources Centre are also participating in Carrying Our Future.

Check the Carrying Our Future Facebook page here.


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