It seems the recent move by the Warehouse to charge 10c for its plastic bags has started a wave of companies who want to go green.
But with all these moves to go green many are questioning their agenda. Are they really being environmentally friendly like they claim, or is this great public relations campaign hiding their plan to cut down costs?
The NZ Herald announced Foodstuffs, Woolworths, Mitre 10 and Caltex are the latest to refuse plastic bags, by signing the Packaging Accord 2004. The Accord aims to improve the sustainability of packaging in New Zealand; so far it has removed 100 million from circulation with the majority (86 million) occurring in the last two years.
This number seems substantial but according to Plastics NZ, New Zealanders use close to a billion plastic bags a year which clearly holds serious environmental implications. Not only do large amounts take hundreds of years to decompose, they litter waterways and landscapes, endanger wildlife and emit tonnes of toxic gas emissions in the atmosphere through burning them.
But we all know plastic is bad for the environment and eliminating the amount is a good thing. However the concern is directed towards these companies operating under the facade of being green when they are making money by reducing their production of bags and charging consumers for the ones that are used.
Land care researcher Ngarimu Blair said reducing bags is “not a serious attempt at being green at all. If they were serious about going green they would compost all their organic waste which goes to landfill – thousands of tonnes every day across NZ is being wasted and dumped in landfills.”
Foodstuffs, one of the largest companies to jump on the green wave, is set to introduce a nationwide 5c charge on their plastic bags. In a recent article by The National Business Review, Foodstuffs Managing Director Tony Carter is vague in claiming where the money made from this extra charge will be put, saying only a substantial amount will be placed towards environmental issues.
Mr Blair is not convinced with this substantial amount and believes that more needs to be done to gain a green image.
“Go ask [supermarkets] how much green waste they throw out each week. They sell products that are over-packaged using plastics and foams etc. If they were serious they’d tell their suppliers they’ll stop buying their product unless they come up with less wasteful packaging.”
Is New Zealand doing this all wrong then? This environmental move is not an uncommon practice around the world, with countries like Ireland implementing an effective plastic bag management system back in the 1990s, when corporate social responsibility didn’t even exist.
New Zealand and Ireland can be associated in many ways, especially their reputation of being clean and green. However they are set apart in their green initiatives as money collected from plastic bags are transferred to revenue commissions. All this revenue is then assigned to an environmental fund, to support waste management, and other environmental causes. It seems as though New Zealand falls short on this aspect.
Hannah Laird, a frequent New World customer, said
“I don’t know why we are being charged for the bags, if they really wanted to go green why don’t they just get more environmentally friendly bags, like paper?”
This exploitation does not seem to be running in smaller businesses that are doing their bit for the environment. Video Source, a central Auckland DVD store has approached the green subject with prompt signage saying they refuse to hand out plastic bags due to respect of the environment.
The manager of this store Adrian Hatwell said: “It’s each store’s decision to give bags out or not, we decided not to, it’s unnecessary waste…If customers really wanted bags, we would never charge them. We would look into bags that are more environmentally friendly.”
Whether we like it or not, it seems more and more businesses will charge for the use of plastic bags. What should be looked on as a small positive for the environment, is outweighed by the greenwashing of large companies.