A Window into Life in the Suburbs

"Consider how the lilies grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these." Luke 12:27 (NIV)

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Banning Plastic Bags?

So the state of California  is thinking about banning plastic bags. I understand that there was some talk from the environment minister about banning plastic bags around here a couple of years ago. Maybe I'm a knuckle-dragging shallow suburban housewife who has no grasp of environmental issues but I don't see the sense in this. Certainly there are irresponsible airheads who discard plastic bags indiscriminately but they're in the minority. But these irresponsible airheads, who think that all the world is theirs to dump on dispose of lots of other things in an inconsiderate manner too such as drink cans, food wrappers, chip bags (which to my mind is much more of problem), cigarette butts, chewing gum, fastfood containers.
I live on a very busy road with bus stops lined up all the way through and I can tell you that I seldom notice plastic bags littering our road but from time to time I see McDonald's cartons, paper bags, potato chips bags, glass bottles and soft drink cans (and dead animals) discarded along the pavement and even in our driveway . But last time I looked, no one is talking about banning those.

The great majority of consumers reuse their plastic bags for all kinds of things anyway. Barring a spill or food spoilage, no one with an ounce of common sense uses a plastic bag in working condition just the one time. Except for those handy nappy bags which are supposedly biodegradeble. Lately, I discovered from watching Castle (tv show) that people with dogs carry plastic bags around with them to collect droppings from roadsides. I don't own pets but I have a preschooler who's still in the process of being toilet trained and has been quite accident prone lately so I take plastic bags everywhere and I reuse those too wherever possible.

I sat down and thought about how often I use plastic bags which is quite regularly but I seldom throw any out  after one use. I have a whole stash in a drawstring bag and we use a lot of it to line our benchtop bin.  I have a number of greenbags which are great for all kinds of things but they aren't waterproof against wetness of varying descriptions.

If we have a problem with litter, let's deal with it in that vein. I've noticed that even the better parks in my local area are a magnet for litter despite the large rubbish bins provided for public use. I'm not convinced that plastic bags are the environmental disaster people say it is. The cynical side of me thinks that governments embroil themselves in these sorts of things for a bit political point scoring.

A story from 2006:
The Productivity Commission has urged the Federal Government to do away with its plans to eliminate plastic shopping bags by the end of 2008.
The commission's draft report, which is titled Waste Generation and Resource Efficiency, also says 'no waste' policies are unattainable and lack credibility.
The report says the Government's commitment to end plastic bag use should not proceed unless it is supported by a transparent cost-benefit analysis.
It says less than 1 per cent of plastic bags become litter, and the extent to which the bags harm wildlife is uncertain.
It also says plastic bags have an important food safety role, and as many as 75 per cent of households reuse them rather than throw them away.
The report says the analysis should clarify the scope of the problems plastic bags cause.
"The foreshadowed use of regulation to ban plastic shopping bags by the end of 2008 should only occur if the benefits outweigh the costs, and a greater net benefit cannot be achieved through policies that directly target plastic bags that become litter," the report said.

Op-ed from The Courier Mail in 2008

New Environment Minister Peter Garrett, who his friends would say had a lack-lustre election campaign, hasn't helped the debate by rushing in and demanding all sorts of things.
Especially since he is still to receive the report that reviews options to reduce plastic bag litter from a working group set up last year by environment ministers.
But until that report brings down a stronger case, those looking down their noses at their neighbours using the bags should read the Productivity Commission's report on the issue.
It, in short, suggests policy makers should examine whether other options – such as tougher anti-litter laws – would be more effective than banning plastic bags.
It does this in a weighty report that looks at all sides of the argument. It says that while plastic-bag litter could injure marine wildlife, claims at least 100,000 animals are killed each year are not supported by evidence.
It says research commissioned by the Australian Government shows only 0.8 per cent of plastic bags become litter, that plastic bags account for only 2 per cent of all litter items, and about 2 per cent of annual expenditure on cleaning up litter is attributable to plastic bags.
Given that, it is fair to ask why asking for a plastic bag at a supermarket now appears a more heinous crime than throwing a cigarette butt out the window of a moving car or dumping picnic wrappers at the beach.
And if plastic bags represent only 2 per cent of all litter items, why are they getting all the attention over the other 98 per cent?
Back to the Productivity Commission report, which finds that smaller retailers have signalled they would switch to paper bags if a ban was imposed on plastic bags.
But this is what the commission says: "Again, this could lead to unintended environmental costs. For example, the greenhouse gases emitted in producing a paper bag have been estimated to be around five times greater than those from producing a plastic bag."


  1. Can't do without plastic bags! If they're not degradable, make them degradable then. Like you said, they're good for water-proofing. And I use it for lining seats before giving birth and after giving birth to ease my bum out of a chair. It is also used to hold vomit, wet umbrellas and an extra protection in the bag for those precious books or clothes.


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