Executive director Paul Curtis says that while the continuing debate over banning plastic shopping bags helps keep the council and New Zealand Retailers Association campaign in the spotlight, it doesn't change anything.
"We welcome the ongoing media interest in plastic bags because it keeps the to reduce their use front of mind with shoppers, however research carried out by ACNielsen last year targeting 1000 typical shoppers, gave a very clear message that New Zealanders don't want a ban on plastic bags," he says.
"Neither do they want a tax on them; they simply want to be reminded to say no to bags if they don't need them.
"Rather than demonising plastic bags and restricting people's right to choose, our focus is on encouraging people to think before they take. And we should also remember it's a two way process, if check out operators forget to ask, then tell them you don't want a bag."
He says plastic bags have many secondary uses with two thirds of all bags taken ending up for kitchen rubbish. Based on international experience there is a correlation between reduction in plastic shopping bags and an increase in the purchase of kitchen tidy bags or bin liners which tend to use heavier plastics.
"China's proposed ban on light weight plastic bags and liners will likely have a whole host of unintended consequences for their waste management."
The research also showed that 74% people say they use plastic bags for their recycling and 1 in 4 actually put out plastic bags to be recycled. Mr Curtis says that plastic bags are an extremely valuable product for recyclers because they are "clean" plastic which can be easily made into pallets, underground cable covers or other plastic products.
"One recycling operator says that he is even importing plastic bags to meet demand. A number of local councils and retailers do collect bags and recycling operators are keen to get them back."
Grocery retailers Progressive Enterprises NZ, Foodstuffs NZ and the Warehouse Limited signed the Packaging Accor
d in 2004 committing to reduce the use of plastic shopping bags by 20% in 5 years. With the impetus of the Make a Difference campaign started in July last year, this target will be met.
John Albertson, CEO of the NZ Retailers Association says that international moves to ban or tax supermarket shopping bags do not necessitate similar measures here.
"There is no point taxing one type of bag out of existence and letting other plastic containers fill the vacuum. The Make a Difference campaign initiated by the main supermarkets and picked up by many convenience stores was designed to encourage shoppers to think twice about taking a plastic bag."
"Introducing a tax on plastic shopping bags or banning them altogether may make us all feel better but there are much bigger environmental issues to be resolved. If you look at the content of a landfill, the big ticket items are organic wastes such as garden wastes, kitchen waste food processing wastes and sewage sludge which make up about one third of all landfill waste. We encourage customers to say no to plastic bags but if your shopping includes waste disposal bags etc are we really doing the right thing or just moving the problem?"