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HAYLEY GASTMEIER
hayley.gastmeier@age.co.nz

Wairarapa retail outlets have got the jump on the Government’s ban on single-use plastic bags, with Countdown Masterton the latest store to stop handing them out to customers.

Some shoppers at the Queen St supermarket were caught off-guard on Monday when the ban took effect, but few voiced any criticism.

Countdown Masterton follows Pain & Kershaw Four Square supermarket in Martinborough, which banned single-use shopping bags on July 1, with the region’s Mitre 10 stores ditching them the same day.

Many other stores in the region were already moving towards a ban on the bags, but now Kiwi retailers don’t have a choice.

The Government on Friday announced the nationwide single-use plastic bag ban which is set to take effect from July next year.

Shoppers outside Countdown Masterton were mostly positive about the ban on Monday morning.

“I’m absolutely supportive of it,” Andrew Croskery said.

“It’s a brilliant idea. We don’t need to be using plastic for single-use, and packaging is the next thing to look at.”

Visitors to the store are encouraged to bring their own bags but have the option of buying a $1 fabric bag, which has a lifespan of about 150 shops, or a recyclable soft plastic bag at 15 cents, which lasts around 20 shops and can be put straight into the recycling bin.

Greg, who only wanted to be referred to by his first name, stuffed his groceries into the latter and said moving away from the single-use option was a no-brainer.

“And they need to go a lot further,” he said.

“I’m not a greenie per se, but if you look at the oceans and the state of them, something has to happen.”

One woman said the ban should not be a problem for organised people, while another woman wasn’t a fan because plastic bags were handy for picking up dog poo.

Another shopper was surprised when he had to pay for a bag at the counter, but said he was “not annoyed” because shopping bags took so long to break down that banning them was a “good move”.

Countdown Masterton manager Adam Hall said the company had received strong messages that customers wanted action taken against the ecological impacts of plastic bags.

Leading up to the change, the store had “really hammered home” the fact that the free bags would no longer be available.

“There’s been a lot of media attention on the issues, and obviously kids have been educated at school as well, so everyone is aware of what plastic bags are doing to the environment.”

He conceded not everyone was on board with the move.

“I guess for a lot of us, we’re creatures of habit and we don’t like change.

“But I can count them on one hand, so it’s hardly worth a mention.”

According to the Government, scientists estimate there is over 150 million tonnes of plastic in the world’s oceans and, if nothing changes, plastic could outweigh fish by 2050.

Five trillion single-use plastic shopping bags are used globally each year.

Pain & Kershaw manager Conor Kershaw said he had received “overwhelmingly positive feedback” to the ditching of single-use plastic bags last month.

“People just realise they have to change their habits.”

He said customers were learning quickly to remember their bags, after staff members had gone out of their way occasionally, to help people carry groceries to their vehicles.

The Martinborough business community had fundraised for 10,000 canvas reusable bags, which were delivered to every urban household.

“That was a real catalyst for people to adopt change quickly.”

Kershaw said the next step for the Government should be a commitment to processing the country’s own soft plastics.

In a letter outlining the New Zealand Product Stewardship Council’s position on single-use plastic bags, trustee and Massey University plastic waste expert Trisia Farrelly said the group recommended a mandatory levy on single-use bags as a first step.

She said “levies have proven extremely effective in reducing their distribution while funding clean-ups and environmental projects” in other countries to date.

People have until September 14 to submit on the Government’s plan to phase out single-use plastic bags.