2020-01-09

Plastic packaging ban 'could harm environment'?

Plastic packaging ban 'could harm environment' says Aunty:
Consumer pressure to end plastic packaging in shops could actually be harming the environment, a report says. Firms are swapping to other packaging materials which are potentially even worse for the environment, the cross-party Parliamentary group warns. Glass bottles, for instance, are much heavier than plastic so are far more polluting to transport. Paper bags tend to have higher carbon emissions than plastic bags – and are more difficult to re-use.
And so on. This is all tediously predictable; a simple knee-jerk "plastic is bad" is stupid; and the general public I think generally can't cope with subtlety.

But then again, neither can the Beeb. Because if you actually read the report1, you find:
There have been some minor changes, for the most part switching from one single use option to another. These include the use of new types of material to replace some plastic in the bottled water market and moves away from plastic straws and stirrers ahead of the forthcoming ban in England in 2020. But, overall, the proportion of plastic packaging seen on most supermarket shelves, and the amount collected as waste and reported to the Environment Agency, has not altered significantly.
Which I find somewhat cheerful. Supermarkets were using plastic packaging because it made sense, and it still continues to make sense.
another noted: “It’s been mostly complaints, saying that plastic is evil and has no place, regardless of any positives it might have in addressing food waste and what not… But this outrage is not necessarily translating into changes in purchasing habits... customers’ concerns over plastic pollution are not yet evident in what they are buying. One observed: “A lot more consumers are saying that they are already avoiding what they understand as single use plastics – that is a clear and consistent trend coming through our research. The challenge is that’s claimed behaviour and is not necessarily coming through as actual behaviours from consumers yet.” Another was far more blunt: “When it comes down to real consumer behaviour, they ain’t changing yet.”
As far as I can tell the entire "plastic pollution" scare is, in the West, nonsense. See e.g. Stemming the Plastic Tide: 10 Rivers Contribute Most of the Plastic in the Oceans; The Yangtze alone pours up to an estimated 1.5 million metric tons into the Yellow Sea.

Notes


1. Ignoring the boilerplate "Plastic pollution is one of the biggest environmental problems of our age" which is nonsense.

Refs


* Explain Your Extremists by Bryan Caplan
* The solution to the plastic waste crisis? It isn’t recycling; by John Vidal; There’s no way of making current levels of consumption ‘environmentally friendly’
The Perverse Panic over Plastic - John Tierney, City Journal

20 comments:

Victor Venema said...

"As far as I can tell the entire "plastic pollution" scare is, in the West, nonsense. See e.g. Stemming the Plastic Tide: 10 Rivers Contribute Most of the Plastic in the Oceans; The Yangtze alone pours up to an estimated 1.5 million metric tons into the Yellow Sea."

It might not be a popular opinion here locally, but it sounds as if the problem is companies running roughshod over weak and undemocratic governments. Without strong governments defending the common good people will try to make money by transferring the costs to everyone else. Dumping plastic in a river is cheaper than managing a landfill.

While the drinking straws are an absurd tiny part of the problem, I do like it when I no longer get childish colourful straws to emphasise that as an adult I am supposed to buy the more expensive alcoholic drink.

Anonymous said...

It might be relevant to realize that the issue of plastics include the spread of non-degradable microparticles, and the accumulation of plastics in the stomachs of a variety of larger species (and therefore likely also smaller species). Much smaller issue with glass or paper.

And then it might be relevant to note that many Western countries exported their plastic waste to China for supposed recycling. out of sight, out of mind, and we can blame someone else that it isn't treated properly.

Verytallguy said...

"And then it might be relevant to note that many Western countries exported their plastic waste to China for supposed recycling. out of sight, out of mind, and we can blame someone else that it isn't treated properly."

This.

William M. Connolley said...

I find it weird that the problem is always inevitably the West's fault, even then it's the East bunging all the plastic into the rivers. And the excuses... you may say many things of China's govt, but it isn't weak.

David B. Benson said...

No, just incompetent.

William M. Connolley said...

Some consistency is required. Is the Chinese govt regrettably authoritarian, but nonetheless capable of getting things done in a way that the West might emulate (mighty railrods, new cities, able to close coal plants in favour of electric busus at the snap of an instruction) or is it so pathetically incompetent it can't prevent people throwing rubbish into rivers?

All of which is somewhat beside the original point: which is the West's habit of picking up the latest fad and running with it; which is a flaw in our method of societal "organisation".

Phil said...

Yes.

The Chinese govt is non-democratic. It has both the strengths and weaknesses of such a system. Build mighty railroads.. With stunning levels of corruption. Trash thrown in rivers. New cities.. mostly unoccupied. The latest technology for thought management.

I prefer messy democratic governments.

Anonymous said...

I did not say the West was inevitably at fault. It is clear to anyone, however, that we in the West *contribute* to the problem. And then we go all gorilla and proclaim how good we are at managing our waste, not taking into account how that exported waste of us is handled.

Regarding the Chinese government being strong, or weak for that matter, see:
https://thediplomat.com/2014/04/chinas-government-weak-or-strong/
https://www.brookings.edu/opinions/the-illusion-of-chinese-power/

Corruption is also quite common, and and anti-corruption actions are not uncommoningly factional struggles in the CCP rather than actual serious attempts to root out corruption.

David B. Benson said...

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/jan/10/kamilo-beach-plastic-hawaii-pollution
Ain't from China...

William M. Connolley said...

I don't understand. That article just says "there is plastic on Hawaii's beaches". It doesn't say where it comes from. Also, if you think I've asserted that all plastic comes from China, you've misread me.

David B. Benson said...

Sea'n'Ski containers don't come from China.

Anonymous said...

"Ignoring the boilerplate "Plastic pollution is one of the biggest environmental problems of our age" which is nonsense."

So what is sense, sensible, wrt plastic usage V the environment then? Is it: I can use plastic, throw it out of the car window, chuck it, burn it as I like because there's no problem?

Is the micro plastic problem a nonsense?

Is plastic in the stomachs of wildlife a nonsense?

Just what are you saying, William?




William M. Connolley said...

> I can use plastic, throw it out of the car window

That's a stupid question. Sorry to be blunt, but if you don't realise you're being stupid, you need to be told. In using and disposing of plastic, we should be sensible. That means, not wantonly throwing it away, not wantonly despoiling the env. But it also means not getting into a moral panic about it. Not swapping plastic for paper just because paper is "natural", without considering whether it is the best thing to do or not.

It also means realising that when reading the vast slew of stories about the oceans being full of plastic, you have to actually think. You have to think: where is the plastic coming from? As Paul graham said recently in a similar context: optimisation before measurement is a classic error that people make again and again.

Anonymous said...


I agree, but you said "...overall, the proportion of plastic packaging seen on most supermarket shelves, and the amount collected as waste and reported to the Environment Agency, has not altered significantly.

Which I find somewhat cheerful. Supermarkets were using plastic packaging because it made sense, and it still continues to make sense.
"

So it makes you 'somewhat cheerful' they're not cutting down on plastic usage, and that 'makes sense'. And, in some senses it does. BUT plastic usage is, usually and essentially about using it and then chucking it somewhere, out of site and out of mind. Plastic IS wantonly thrown away - and millions of tonnes of the stuff per year across the planet.

I'm not stupid (hell, I've been reading you, Eli and the rest of the sane amongst us for years, and normally I learn a lot) and I know wanton littering when I see it. As such plastic IS a problem. I certainly don't see plastic pollution as a 'scare'.

Perhaps I need to ask another 'stupid' question to get at why you think plastic pollution, in the west, is a 'scare'? Because if it is a scare what's the problem with wantonly chucking millions of tonnes of the stuff into the environment somewhere else (other than 'the west') every years? Or is yours simply a 'out of the west's sight out of the west's mind approach'. I genuinely see a contradiction in your views here.

Nathan said...

" But it also means not getting into a moral panic about it."

What is a moral panic? Because I see no panic.


"Not swapping plastic for paper just because paper is "natural", without considering whether it is the best thing to do or not"
Well, I can compost my paper wraps in the bins in my garden and turn it to soil improver...
Bit of a no-brainer.


"You have to think: where is the plastic coming from? "
People do this. They see it in their neighbourhood and work to get rid of it. It's far easier to affect change in your own neighbourhood or country than someone else's country. It is good to work to reduce consumption of plastic even if you're not the main consumer.
It's really not hard to understand and it doesn't need undermining.

William M. Connolley said...

> plastic usage, and that 'makes sense'. And, in some senses it does. BUT plastic usage is, usually and essentially about using it and then chucking it somewhere, out of site and out of mind. Plastic IS wantonly thrown away

Some plastic is, but you need to look at the numbers, the aggregate. In the West, little plastic is "wantonly thrown away"; the moral panic over single-use-plastic is a moral panic. Supermarkets use plastic because it makes sense; panicking about it and using something else makes not-sense, and is bad.

> I'm not stupid

Probably not, but your reading comprehension needs work; I called your question stupid.

> What is a moral panic?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moral_panic

> it doesn't need undermining

Individual efforts to improve things are good, and I won't undermine them. Mass campaigns to force the world into what a pressure group perceives as a more morally acceptable framework are bad, and I will do my best to undermine those; most notably, by my brilliantly convincing rhetoric.

David B. Benson said...

Here are some links about plastic pollution:
http://bravenewclimate.proboards.com/thread/673/plastic-pollution

Brian Schmidt said...

Article headline: "10 Rivers Contribute Most of the Plastic in the Oceans"

Third sentence in article: "A recent study estimates that more than a quarter of all that waste could be pouring in from just 10 rivers, eight of them in Asia."

Hmmm.... I suppose "most" really is "more than a quarter" but it seems like something may be off. I'm betting the sentence is more accurate than the header but am too lazy to check.

William M. Connolley said...

I too was disappointed at the amount of "unexplained" stuff, as shown in that graphic. But you can also have "A new study found that the primary source of single-use plastic bottles that wash ashore in the south Atlantic Ocean is likely Chinese merchant marine vessels" if you like. So, still no evidence that the fuss the West is making is in any way justified.

Nathan said...

"So, still no evidence that the fuss the West is making is in any way justified."

I think you're mistaking the way the media reports things as the opinion of 'The West'