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In the bag – Kiwis react to banning single-use plastic bags

New data from the General Social Survey (GSS), collected between April 2018 and March 2019, shows a change in behaviour around the use of reusable shopping bags, Stats NZ said today.

Around the time the questions for the 2018/19 GSS were developed, there was a lot of media coverage about the harmful effects of single-use plastic bags on the environment, but no formal ban was in place. However, in August 2018, midway through the GSS collection, the Government announced plans for a plastic bag ban. In December they announced this would take effect from 1 July 2019.

“This meant the GSS acted as an accidental social experiment,” wellbeing and housing manager Dr Claire Bretherton said. “The survey could highlight how the behaviour of Kiwis might change as preparations for the ban got underway.”

Some supermarkets started phasing out single-use plastic bags well before the ban took effect, with Countdown becoming the first to phase out plastics bags in October 2018 (see Plastic bags). Other supermarket chains followed suit from 1 January 2019 (see Reducing plastic bag usage).

Reusable bag use rose

In April 2018, 7 out of 10 people (70 percent) lived in a household in which at least one person usually took reusable bags when shopping. In October 2018, this had jumped to 9 out of 10 people (92 percent). By the beginning of 2019, reusable bag use was almost universal, with 96 percent of people stating they or someone in their household usually used them.


Young people saw the biggest rise

While all age groups saw an increase in their household’s reusable bag usage, households with young people saw the biggest rise.

In the first three months of the 2018/19 GSS collection (April, May, and June 2018), only 64 percent of 15–24-year-olds lived in households where at least one person usually took reusable bags when shopping, compared with 78 percent of people aged 65 or over. However, by the last three months of collection this proportion had increased to 96 percent and was not significantly different from other age groups.

Note: Data for Stats NZ’s 2018/19 General Social Survey (GSS) was collected between April 2018 and March 2019. The survey asked people a series of environmental questions including whether they, or someone in their household, composted, recycled, or took reusable bags when shopping. A small number of interviews took place in March 2018 and April 2019. These have been excluded from this analysis.

Single-use plastic shopping bags ban kicks in explains the Government’s bag ban.

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