Banning plastic bags: the fines

So the government has announced it is going to ban plastic bags. In its typical cart-before-the-horse way (also known as ‘arse about face’), the announcement that they are GOING to ban plastic bags has been made, but now they are going to set up consultation groups to decide exactly HOW it is going to be done. It used to be reasonable to expect the work to be done behind the scenes before a legislative announcement is made but this is the crazy government of Jacinda Ardern. Nobody actually knows which planet we are on.

So, to get an idea of the likely penalties that will be applied for selling, distributing or presumably merely using plastic bags, we have had to look overseas, to see what countries that have already adopted this policy have done.

Firstly, the Washington Post reports that Mumbai, India, has severe penalties for using or distributing plastic bags. quote:

On Mumbai’s Versova beach, it was once hard to see the sand amid the endless sea of plastic bags and trash. The long stretch of coast had essentially turned into a dumping site until volunteers banded together to clean it up.

Now municipal authorities are taking a new step in the battle against the plastic waste that afflicts Mumbai and so many other cities across the country by criminalizing the use of plastic bags with fines of up to $366 and jail sentences for repeat offenders. end quote.

Jail time…for using plastic bags. You cannot be serious.

And SBS News reports quote:

South Africa was the first [African country] to issue a ban after declaring the plastic bag had become their ‘national flower’. In 2003 South Africa announced fines of 100,000 rand ($AUD11,000) or a 10-year jail term to show they were serious about the issue. end quote.

Another country with a jail term. Seriously? quote:

In 2017 Kenya topped South Africa’s tough stance on bags by making producing, selling and even using plastic bags illegal. Kenya imposed a maximum fine of $AU56,000 – making it the world’s toughest law aimed at reducing plastic pollution. end quote.

No jail time in Kenya, but enormous fines. quote:

Hong Kong introduced a levy in 2015 requiring all retailers to charge customers at least HKD0.50 ($0.08AUD) for a plastic bag. The aim was to encourage a habit of “bring your own bag” within Hong Kong’s society. The government is taking the levy seriously; in 2016 a grocer was fined $HK5,000 ($AUD827) for failing to charge customers for plastic bags.  end quote.

Hong Kong has gone for a taxing and fining approach.  quote:

Indonesia has pledged up to $AUD1.29 billion a year to reduce plastic waste from polluting its waters. The country has used a nationwide campaign to allow retailers to charge consumers up to $AUD0.48 for a plastic bag.

In 2002, Ireland gained worldwide attention for imposing a “bag tax”, forcing customers to buy plastic bags. The effect was seen almost immediately, within weeks there was a 90 per cent drop in plastic bag use and litter reduction. In 2007, in response to a rise in bag usage Ireland raised the tax again to 0.22 euro (AUD0.35).

The United States is yet to introduce a blanket ban on single-use plastic bags but there are some anti-bag regulations in certain states and cities. In 2014, the state of California became the first in the US to ban plastic bags and charge for paper ones.  New York City charges a five cent (AUD) fee for every bag used there. The city of Chicago also banned plastic bags in 2014 and Washington and Dallas have imposed a bag tax, charging for both paper and plastic bags. end quote.

So, apart from some extreme penalties, it seems that most countries have either started imposing taxes on plastic bags, thus dramatically reducing the number of bags used or implementing fines for retailers who do not comply. The main exception to this is China, which has introduced rules to limit the use of plastic bags but the rules are largely ignored, particularly in smaller towns and provinces. quote:

Tasmania started the ban the bag movement in Australia with the town of Coles Bay banning single-use plastic bags in 2003. The rest of Tasmania caught up ten years later, issuing a state-wide ban in 2013.

South Australia was the first state to issue a blanket ban in 2009, hitting retailers with fines of up to $5000 for distributing banned bags and retailer suppliers with fines of up to $20,000.

The ACT and Northern Territory introduced similar laws in 2011.

In 2017, the Victorian government announced its plans to ban the bags “as soon as possible”.

Queensland and Western Australia have promised to ban the bag in 2018. end quote.

Our government has already announced it is going to ban plastic bags. It will not be a question of imposing a tax on them. They have stated it will be an outright ban. So, we can probably assume that our rules will be similar to those imposed in Australia. Plastic bags will be banned, with fines of up to $5,000 for distribution to $20,000 for retailers supplying them.

Although, when discussing the matter on his radio show last Friday, Andrew Dickens did imply that the maximum fine here might be $100,000. I don’t know how true that might be.

It all seems a bit extreme for a country where few plastic bags get into the oceans, and where the locals had already been getting used to the idea of living without ‘single use’ plastic bags anyway.

I mean, New Zealand never looks quite like this, does it?

Isn’t it more about the government controlling our behaviour? Telling us what to do? Isn’t that what socialist governments always do?

(Credit: Sally for research)


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Accountant. Boring. Loves tax. Needs to get out more. Loves the environment, but hates the Greens. Has been called a dinosaur. Wears it with pride.

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