How will the ban be enforced?  

From 1 July 2019, when the regulations came into force:

  • consumers, retailers and suppliers can use the online form to notify the Ministry of non-compliance by retailers
  • we will respond to complaints received through the online process about the supply of banned plastic bags, and follow these up directly with the retailer involved.

The Ministry encourages voluntary compliance. In the first instance our preference is to take an educational approach and to offer advice to help businesses understand their responsibilities.  

The Waste Minimisation Act does allow for fines of up to $100,000 to be issued when parties deliberately contravene regulations under the Act. These fines are not specific to the plastic bag regulations. Any fines will be proportionate to the offence.  

About the ban

The Waste Minimisation (Plastic Shopping Bags) Regulations 2018 [New Zealand Legislation website] took effect on 1 July 2019. From this date retailers can no longer sell or distribute single-use plastic shopping bags to customers for the purpose of carrying or distributing their sold goods. 

The regulations were approved and announced in December 2018. This gave businesses a six month period, until 1 July 2019, to transition away from plastic bags. From 1 July 2019 businesses cannot sell or provide single-use plastic shopping bags to customers for the purpose of carrying or distributing their sold goods. 

Who is affected?

All retailers are affected. The regulations apply to all businesses in New Zealand who sell goods.

This includes:

  • sales directly to consumers and business-to-business transactions
  • online sales 
  • small produce markets and retail stores through to large department stores and supermarkets 
  • both profit and not-for-profit organisations.

Which bags are banned?

The regulations apply to plastic shopping bags which meet all of the following criteria. 

  • Made of any type of plastic less than 70 microns in thickness. This includes plastics made from bio-based materials such as starch and plastics designed to be degradable, biodegradable or oxo-degradable, AND
  • Have carry handles including die cut handles, AND
  • Are new or unused.

What can I do with my existing stock after 1 July?

We acknowledge that the ban may mean that some businesses have a large amount of single-use plastic bags leftover on 1 July 2019. 

The decision for a short phase-out period was supported by the majority of submitters during the public consultation phase of the regulations. New Zealanders want less plastic waste. The phase-out of single-use shopping bags will benefit the environment by preventing further circulation and manufacture of these bags. 

Local recycling and plastic manufacturers may be able to assist with unused stock. You will need to contact businesses in your area to find out. The policy intention is for the ban to cover plastic bags used for the purpose of taking away or distributing goods from a retailer. It does not prevent retailers from using or giving away leftover stock for other uses. We strongly recommend against sending surplus bags to landfill.

The transition away from single-use plastic shopping bags has been moving quickly. In a survey in September 2018, 50 per cent of New Zealanders reported that they brought their own bags, up from 35 per cent in April 2018.

Which bags are not covered by the ban? 

  • Bags without handles including light-weight barrier bags (eg, bags without handles used for containing meat and/or produce)
  • Bin liners/rubbish bags 
  • Bags for pet waste or nappies
  • Bags that form an integral part of a product’s packaging (eg, breadbags and pouches for cooked chicken)
  • Bags that do not contain plastic including bio-sourced plastics (eg, cotton, jute, hemp, paper and flax)
  • Long-life multi-use bags made from synthetic fabric (eg, nylon and polyester) between 45 and 70 microns in thickness. 

Why are biodegradable, oxo-degradable and compostable bags included in the phase out?

New Zealand does not yet have the nationwide infrastructure to deliver biodegradable, oxo-degradable and compostable plastics to facilities which can break them down into substances that are safe for nature. In addition, not everyone has a home compost bin and home compost bins are rarely set up with the right conditions and capacity to breakdown these bags properly.  

Why are bags made of plant materials considered plastic? 

Bio-based bags, including bags marketed as 100 per cent plant-based (eg, cassava or cornstarch), are manufactured through the synthesis of the original plant source into a new resilient material (a bio-plastic) to serve as a carry bag. These bio-bags do not degrade as quickly or easily as their source material, and do not help in the shift from disposal to reusable options. 

How can I help?

We encourage you to make your neighbours and other businesses aware of the regulations and where to find information.