Banning the bag – a discussion with Greenpeace

I was contacted by Greenpeace earlier this week. I’d signed a petition to ban plastic bags, and I think they figured I might be willing to donate and support them financially.

I wasn’t willing to do that, as I focus my financial support in another direction (KidsCan NZ), but I did have an interesting discussion with the Greenpeace representative about plastic waste and the problems it presents for our environment.

The Greenpeace ‘ban the bag’ campaign. A great idea – plastic bags are a huge problem. But Greenpeace is offering no ideas of what to replace bags with!

‘Single use’ bags are really dual-purpose bags

The argument you’ll hear against banning bags in New Zealand is that people re-use them for their rubbish bins, and this is true. Again and again I hear, If we ban the bags, people will just have to buy them instead. ‘Glad’ and other plastic bag makers will be thrilled. Their profits will soar. And ordinary folk will have yet another item they have to buy which once was free.

There are a lot of poor people in this country. The last thing they need is to pay for rubbish bags. I’m a keen environmentalist but I also feel strongly for families struggling to make ends meet.

I asked the Greenpeace Rep on the other end of the phone what suggestions she had for people to use for their rubbish instead of the single use shopping bags. She had none. None at all!

In my view this is pretty pathetic – if you’re going to ask people to change, you MUST offer an option for them to change to. People do love the environment and want to help, but they hate feeling like it’s a choice between feeding their kids and being ‘green’.

It shouldn’t ever be a choice! We should all be able to support our planet and do the right thing – and we should all be able to save money in the process. Being green shouldn’t only be an option for rich people. It should be for everyone.

    ‘Being green shouldn’t just be an option for rich people. It should be achievable for everyone.’

I pointed out that we can’t just put our rubbish in the bin without bagging it. It’ll fly all over the street and make a mess. She agreed. We also can’t go ‘zero waste’ – we’re a family with four kids in a country town on a budget and the plain fact is, we use products that have packaging.

While it’s a good thing to lobby companies to use less packaging and to choose items with less packaging, change will take time in that direction and in the meanwhile, families will continue to produce plastic waste that needs bagging.

So yes, I support Greenpeace’s ban on single-use bags, but realistically I don’t think it will happen. If Greenpeace is not offering any alternative solutions, the problem of plastic bags won’t be solved by their ban even if it works – it’ll just be transferred. Instead of free plastic bag waste we’ll have bought plastic bag waste instead. We might have fewer, but the problem will remain.

I don’t have answers beyond what we already do. We have chickens to use our food waste – and they do this brilliantly. We compost everything the chooks won’t eat. We recycle everything we can. We buy bulk when we can to cut packaging further. We burn most of our cardboard and paper waste in the fireplace for extra heat in winter. So most of the unsorted waste that goes to landfill is plastic.

We have chickens which take care of almost all of our food waste. We compost the rest of our rubbish, recycle or burn it, so virtually the only rubbish going to landfill these days is plastic.

It’s clear to me that society is improving. We’re getting better. But we have a long way to go. And one thing is clear – you can’t successfully ban plastic bags without having a genuine alternative for all people, wealthy and poor, to switch to.

“Some of my best friends are Republicans…”

I don’t much like the way politics has gone lately.

However I look at it, politics seems to find ways to divide us from our neighbours, find differences with other people, and bring out anger and hate and fear.

I’m one of those people who like and respect many, many people on all sides of the political spectrum. What I see – this division process that is currently going on – troubles me and makes me worry for our futures.

For all of us.

A house divided against itself cannot stand. That famous Lincoln quote is more true now than ever.


More than ever, we humans are facing massive changes and difficulties, and we need to be able to put our differences aside and work together. We need to stop seeing only on the small things that divide us, and instead focus on the huge, far more important things that unite us all.

There are so many things that we all want, no matter who we are, or where we come from, or who we might vote for.

An end to poverty.
No more war.
No more horrible terror attacks.
No more children living with preventable disease.

These are just a few.

We all want to live in countries where a basic, honest wage will support a family.
We all want to live in a world where no-one is too poor to send their child to school, or too poor to see a doctor.
None of us want our neighbours to be hungry or cold, or to suffer.
All of us want to keep our children safe from harm. All of us hope that our children will grow up health and happy and well, and that we too will be happy and whole.

At the moment, in the United States for example, the Republican party is focused on issues of national security while the Democrats are focusing more on issues of wealth and equality.

I believe we can care about both: I believe we can want our children to be safe, while wanting people on low wages to be paid decently.

There is a middle ground in all this hatred, this bickering, this pettiness.

It begins with being kind.
With caring for one another.
With not judging.
With loving our neighbours, no matter their religion, their sexuality, or their wealth.

These are not new principles, nor are they found only in a minority religion or worldview. They’re common to all people, all faiths, all belief systems – including atheists and agnostics.

So let’s start practising them.

If we are to build strong, healthy societies, we need to care for those who are weakest as well as for ourselves. We need to learn to be kind again. We need to learn to think of others as well as ourselves. We need to respect that others have rights and opinions too, even though we may not agree with them.

Above all, we need to start by listening.

So yes, it’s time we had political discussions. But we need to begin those discussions not with “I’m a Democrat” or “I’m a Republican” or “I’m a Green” or “I’m a National” or “I vote for Labour”, but with open ears, open minds, and a little bit of tolerance and understanding for our fellow humans on this very small earth.