Why We Should All Use More Plastic Bags

For some time now politicians and journalists seem to have regarded the plastic bag as the major threat to the planet. Stores have run huge campaigns explaining that they are banning free plastic bags in order to save the environment.

(There is a strong argument that the sole aim of a company is, in fact, to make a profit for its shareholders. It should do so in a responsible manner but that doesn't include making preachy choices which impinge on the freedom of their customers and which are based on bad science. Worrying about the environment is something best left to politicians and lawmakers. Those who feel this way might be comforted by the thought that the `we are going to charge for plastic bags' campaigns were probably designed to increase corporate profits and were not inspired by any concern for the planet. Am I the only person to be offended by the wild hypocrisy of stores which sell heavily packaged Easter eggs and then campaign against giving away plastic bags to their customers? The Daily Mail ran a ferocious anti-plastic bag campaign. But the paper still wrapped their Saturday magazine (and its inserts) in a plastic bag.)

Politicians have egged them on. Gordon Brown said that if supermarkets didn't ban plastic bags he would bring in legislation to make them do so. Stores, spotting an opportunity to save some money, immediately started charging for plastic bags. (They didn't stop making or using them, you will note, they simply started charging money for them, sometimes promising to give part or all of the profits made from the sale of bags to some worthy charity. Naturally, they didn't offer to give to charity the money they were saving by not handing out free plastic bags.)

Newspapers have run excited campaigns telling us all that if we use plastic bags we are threatening our children's future. Important issues (the increasing role of the EU in our lives, the nation's approaching bankruptcy, wars on two continents) have been set aside so that the issue of the plastic bag can be discussed at length.

How true is all this? Are plastic bags really the planet's enemy?

Well, actually, it's not very true at all. We should, perhaps, be using more plastic bags.

1. Paul Fahy reports in an excellent article entitled Plastic Bag Propaganda published in 'The UK Column' that plastic bags are manufactured from a form of plastic derived from a by-product of the oil industry. If the by-product wasn't turned into plastic bags it would have to be burned off - increasing carbon dioxide emissions. So people who use plastic bags are actually helping to save the planet - not destroy it. And, ironically, the oh so self-righteous people who campaign against plastic bags are actually campaigning against the planet's best interests.

2. Fahy reports that the manufacture of plastic bags consumes less energy than the manufacture of paper bags. Plastic bags generate less solid waste than paper bags. And they are responsible for fewer atmospheric emissions.

3. Plastic bags are widely reused. Few things are recycled as often or as efficiently or as extensively as plastic bags.

4. Most modern plastic bags are biodegradable.

5. It is not the fault of the plastic bag that some litterbugs throw them around. To ban plastic bags because some of them end up littering the countryside makes as much sense as banning newspapers because some of them end up littering the countryside.

6. It has been claimed that plastic bags are responsible for killing millions of birds every year. And that they kill 100,000 marine animals too. In fact, there is no evidence to support these claims. The original source was a report from 1987 which found that between 1981 and 1984 around 100,000 animals had been killed by discarded plastic fishing nets. This report was subsequently misquoted and the plastic fishing nets became plastic bags. There is not, and never was, any evidence showing that plastic bags kill millions of birds every year. (Just how the bags were supposed to kill the birds was never explained.)

7. Some stores have replaced plastic bags with paper bags. Paper bags may be nice and old fashioned but they were never very practical. Try carrying one, packed with groceries, in a rainstorm. And you can't usually put handles on paper bags. There is also the problem that you have to chop down trees to make paper bags. This damages the environment and contributes to global warming by reducing the number of trees on the planet.

8. Other stores are selling heavy-duty cloth bags that can be used more than once (just like plastic bags can be used more than once). These bags are usually made of cotton. There is a shortage of cotton. Furthermore, making cotton bags requires a good deal of energy and a lot of water, both of which are in short supply. And in order to grow the profitable extra cotton to make the bags, farmers are growing less food. The result is that people in Africa are starving to death so that nice, liberal do-gooders can wander around carrying their shopping in cotton bags.

9. By charging for plastic bags stores are punishing the poor who cannot afford to buy environmentally unfriendly cotton bags and who have to buy the plastic bags so that they can carry their shopping home.

Readers who find this material of interest will doubtless also find my analysis of the light bulb nonsense (which appears in The OFPIS File) equally illuminating. The facts about the new dangerous, mercury filled light bulbs we are being forced to use have been distorted in order to support a bizarre nonsense.

Copyright Vernon Coleman 2011
This article is adapted from Vernon Coleman's book What Happens Next? The book is available through the shop on this website.