An endangered great crested grebe tangles with a plastic bag in Lake Wanaka.
He has previously said a ban or a compulsory levy cannot be justified when plastic shopping bags only make up 1.5 per cent of litter items in nationwide litter surveys.
Instead, Smith has said he supports a $1.2 million soft-plastics recycling pilot project, which was launched in November 2015.
The aim of the project was to give 70 per cent of Kiwis a drop-off facility for soft-plastic waste within 20km of home within three years.
MYTCHALL BRANSGROVE/FAIRFAX NZ
Environment Minister Nick Smith has said investing in a soft-plastics recycling project is a better way of tackling the plastic bag problem than introducing a levy.
Smith said this was “a more sensible approach than a ban or a compulsory levy on just plastic shopping bags, which make up only two per cent of waste going to landfill and only 10 per cent of plastic waste.”
Roche, the Green Party’s waste spokeswoman said she was “hugely irritated” by the Government’s approach, which was focused on investing in soft-plastics recycling and educating consumers.
These schemes “only go so far”.
“The problem with recycling is, it’s really expensive and it’s what you do when you fail to avoid using plastic bags, so the best thing to do is to stop using them,” Roche said.
“1.6 billion plastic bags are used in New Zealand every year, and many of them end up in our oceans.”
Roche travelled the length of the country campaigning for a phase-out scheme last year, with support from conservation advocacy group Our Seas Our Future.
“The Ministry’s argument was that New Zealand is a small country and we don’t contribute a lot to the marine waste, so why should we do anything.”
Last year, the United Kingdom government imposed a 5p (9c) levy on plastic bags, and money collected must go to charities.
The move has led to an 85 per cent reduction in plastic bag use and raised £29m ($52.3m) for charity in six months, Roche said.
Ireland enacted a plastic bag levy decades ago. In October this year, New York City will introduce a 10c bag levy, after it was approved earlier this year.