dimanche 12 avril 2009

Plastic bag obsession is carrier for environmental ignorance

It's time to refocus; plastic bags are not the scourge of the planet, their biggest evil is to distract us from more pressing causes.

Don't get me wrong – I don't like plastic bags either. We use too many of them, just as we use too many of all the earth's resources. They litter the countryside and cause problems for wildlife when they end up in the sea. But their total impact is microscopic by comparison to almost anything else we do. As environment writer George Marshall records in his excellent book Carbon Detox, our annual average consumption of bags produces 5kg of carbon dioxide a year. Total average emissions are 12,500kg.

Plastic bags aren't even a very large component of domestic waste. Plastics in general – according to a study by South Gloucestershire district council – account for 18% of total household waste. Plastic bags account for 18% of the plastic, which means 3.2% of total waste. Clingfilm (23% of domestic plastic waste) produces a greater proportion than plastic bags.

So why this fetishisation? Because dealing with plastic bags is easy. Easy for the government, easy for retailers, easy for shoppers. It threatens no one, makes money for the shops (if they charge for their bags) and ensures that everyone feels better about themselves, while continuing to trash the biosphere just as we did before.


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