Professor Ian Spellerberg blathers on in The Press about the urgent need to ban plastic bags. It quite simply amazes me that environmentalists such as the lonely Prof. think that this is in any way a priority. I have commented many times on plastic bags, and no doubt this won't be the last.
If I were to act on the advice of many letters and articles to The Press, I should not be wasting my time writing this article; I should have better things to do than write about plastic shopping bags.
The luxury of being an academic is that you do have better things to do, but can choose not to do them, and someone else pays. If only the real world could be so forgiving! Prof Spellerberg seems to acknowledge his own lunacy but is unable to take the next step and stop it.
The Prof tries to state both sides of the argument:
The arguments supporting plastic shopping bags in New Zealand appear to be the following:
* They are a valuable product of innovative industrial design
Certainly compared to paper bags, handle-less bags, no bags, eco bags (which have many times the material and are generally plastic) and hand bags.
* They are a cost-effective way of carrying purchases
That would explain why our glorious capitalist system has invented them. In fact, being a by-product, the raw material is almost free.
* Customers demand them
Demand is a bit strong. There is 'demand'. Customers 'prefer' them would be better.
* Plastic shopping bags can be put to multiple uses
True. If only they could silence this silly debate.
* Disposal of organic waste from the kitchen is not possible without plastic shopping bags
Have you not heard of a waste disposal unit or a rubbish bin? I don't understand this one.
* By weight and by volume plastic bags amount to a very small part of the material going to landfill
Yes about 0.2%, not even worth thinking about.
* The number of bags contributing to litter is very small
Tiny. A lot of the desire to control plastic bags probably comes from seeing them blowing about in third world countries. They don't do that in New Zealand.
* Not all plastic bags are created equal, as some are biodegradable
Not that it matters, since the bags are made from a by-product which would be burnt / dumped anyway, and 0.2% of a landfill isn't worth worrying about. Might as well make some use out of the material.
* To introduce a ban would be another gain for the "Nanny State"
And its helpful friend, the dopy academic. Let us not forget that the Nanny State aka previous government was run by academics.
But the Prof has missed a few:
- They are a by-product of petrol production. Polyethylene gas is otherwise just burnt off.
- They don't kill animals...
- ...even marine life
- They are hugely convenient for any number of uses
- They are frequently re-used until they fall apart / tear
- It is almost impossible to go camping without them
- People would otherwise have to buy plastic bags anyway
- There are lots of higher environmental priorities, such as saving the snails, or is that whales?
- They promote impulse purchases which are good for the retail sector
- The allow the sale of otherwise inadequately-packed items. For example wet veges, frozen food and anything else with lots of moisture would otherwise need to be bagged
- They can be printed on, to advertise the business
- They can help recycle newspaper (how else to bag them?)
- They give environmentalists something to winge about
- You can carry a dozen bags and an awful lot of shopping if you have to
- Even when filled they are light enough to lift into the boot of your car
- They can be tied at the top to stop things falling out
- They fold down to take up almost no space in a drawer
- They make great bin liners for small rubbish bins (i.e. otherwise you would have to buy plastic bags)
- They are remarkably strong for their weight, even carrying bottles of wine and milk without tearing
- They are extremely cheap to transport in bulk
Then the Prof. says:
Looking at the bigger picture, plastic shopping bags are not an issue. We have much more important environmental issues than plastic shopping bags to worry about.
I couldn't agree more.
But then the Prof. contradicts himself and goes off into the weeds. Let's go through these points one by one:
The arguments against plastic shopping bags in New Zealand seem to be as follows:
* They contribute to litter in cities and the countryside
In such as tiny way as to be unmeasurable. In their ability to hold rubbish (e.g. from a picnic in the park) I think on balance they are much more likely to reduce litter.
* Plastic shopping bags are a source of pollution
This is a vague statement. What sort of pollution? In fact they reduce polution by creating a market for poly-ethylene gas which would otherwise just be burnt: THAT would be pollution. So I think this statement is probably just false.
* They cause harm to both terrestrial and aquatic animals
This is rubbish. Perhaps extra-terrestrial animals in the Prof's dreams. In any case, one wonders how a terrestrial or acquatic (that means land / sea for us mortals) animal would come into contact with a plastic bag? Litter? There has been lots of noise about this but anyone who has looked at it has found essentially no effect.
* Their production is an unnecessary waste of petroleum resources
Which would otherwise be burnt. Er, the only word to describe this statement is 'wrong'.
* There are alternatives (durable, long-lasting, environmentally friendly shopping bags)
Which cost a lot more, use a lot more material, are too heavy when filled and are often made of the same material. They get dirty, lost, and don't have many of the advantages described above. If they were a full replacement for plastic bags and better in every way, then we would already be using them exclusively. Just as plastic bags have taken over from paper.
* Banning them would be a gesture of good environmental stewardship
A gesture which would inconvenience 4 million innocent humans for no purpose and no measurable environmental improvement.
* A growing number of retail outlets have agreed to discontinue the provision of plastic shopping bags
While there is consumer choice we non-environmentalists can at least shop elsewhere. In any case this is not a reason to ban plastic bags.
* A growing number of people are using the alternatives
10,000 environmentalists can't be wrong! Global Warmist Unite! This is also not a reason to ban plastic bags.
* A growing number of countries overseas have already banned plastic shopping bags
Mostly Nanny State ones with no respect for individual freedoms. Yet another non-reason.
And there you have it. The lonely Prof's sum total of argument. Once would expect him to then state that we should make even more of them and ban the eco-bags. But, no, the Prof is not VP of the Environment Institute for nothing.
Plastic bags are just one of the many poorly designed, environmentally unfriendly products. Other examples include non-refillable plastic pens, non-reusable plastic fast- food containers, outdoor heaters, leaf blowers, and electric carving knives. Why is it not mandatory for all products to be designed so that their manufacture, use and disposal has minimum impact on the environment?
It probably hasn't occured to this bloke that refillable pens cost more (i.e. consume more resources) that non-refillable, so have their place in the market. Why would anyone want to re-use a smelly old fast food container? How else to heat the patio than with a patio heater? What is wrong with blowing leaves around? My wife swears by her electric carving knife and that was the first purchase when we arrived here and couldn't track down our old one.
People accuse environmentalists of trying to bomb us back into the stone age and they are right.
Minimum impact on the environment mandates minimal functionality. Patio heaters, electric knives and fast food would simply be banned by environmentalists, given half a chance. They have no interest in the benefits and only consider the costs. That is why we call them environmentalists.
Dealing with plastic shopping bags at the end of their life is not addressing the issue. It is simply dealing with a problem caused by poor product design.
Lack of regulation probably doesn't help either.
I think we have already discovered that plastic bags are the best (current) design for the problem, and eco-bags have all sorts of problems in replacing them. In fact the only way it would happen would be if plastic bags were banned. Which oddly enough is what is being proposed. This is simpily forcing everyone to use the second-best solution. Crazy.
So why have I bothered to write this article?
Is that a trick question? Because you are an environmentalists and we all know that environmentalists love wasting newsprint telling us about their mad views.
The reason is simple. The plastic shopping bag debate is an indicator of a much bigger and more serious challenge facing all of us. That is, the unsustainable use of nature and the environment. However, just one small step at a time can do a lot to help reduce the human ecological footprint.
There is no such unsustainable use. Next they will claim that we have to move away from the sun because it is running out of Hydrogen. It is, but at such a slow rate that mankind will be dead and buried long before we have to worry. Likewise we will lose interest in oil as an energy source long before we run out of it.
This business of ecological footprint is similarly nonsence. The best way to reduce your 'footprint' (other than wearing shoes a size too small) is to go back to the third world (where we all were in 1700), eat no meat, walk everywhere and live in a hole. Perhaps environmentalists might consider that human progress is generally focussed in moving in the other direction.
In any case, if plastic bags are an indicator of a serious challenge, why ban the indicator? It is like banning thermometers to combat global warming. Actually, maybe that does have merit...
Therefore, it is very important that New Zealand does ban plastic shopping bags. We can do without them, they are a drain on resources and they do have an impact on nature and the environment.
There is no need to ban these wonderful inventions. We cannot do without them (as people would otherwise have to buy plastic bags), they are produced from a by-product and 'drain resources' less that the alternatives. They have essentially no impact on nature and the environment (what is the difference?). In fact the impact is probably positive.
Say no to plastic shopping bags and show that you care.
Say yes to plastic bags to show that are capable of critical and independent thinking.
It is shocking to think that this person is a highly trained academic employed in a New Zealand public-funded university. How can he hold his head up again after writing such a load of mindless gibberish. It doesn't even meet the basic standard of justifying its arguments.
Must try harder, Nanny State. Go plastic.