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Due to public concern over the environmental impacts of plastic shopping bags
many countries, states, towns and councils are implementing measures to address
their use.While a number of individual retailers in New Zealand have taken steps to
reduce plastic bag consumption, there has been limited national or regional
government action to address plastic shopping bag use. While other countries have
favoured economic instruments, such as Ireland’s “PlasTax”, under a cost benefet
analysis research has identified that all policy interventions are cost inefficient. 1
This thesis uses a mixed comparative approach to investigate the environmental
impacts of plastic shopping bags and consumption patterns, in relation to
international practice, alternatives to plastic shopping bag, and policy options.
The mixed comparative approach used in this research is a combination of the
philosophies underlying cost benefit analysis, sustainable development, triple
bottom line reporting, case studies and policy analysis. Voluntary actions are
identified as the least costly option, but achieve smaller reductions in plastic
shopping bag use. In contrast regulatory actions are more likely to achieve greater
reductions in plastic bag use, but are costly and have less public and political
acceptance. Economic instruments while achieving modest to high reductions in
plastic shopping bag use, are moderately costly, and also face acceptance and
implementation constraints. However, due to strong public pressure for government
intervention, and potential implications for future climate change and sustainability
initiatives, it is suggested that economic instruments and regulatory options are the
most likely choices for government policies to address plastic shopping bags.

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