Paper or plastic? — 17 Comments

  1. They presumably have an issue with logging, in which case we should simply switch to paper bags made from hemp. This is better quality paper and has been used extensively in the past (US declaration of independence is on hemp paper). Then, after we are finished with them, we can smoke them (though the THC content is sufficiently low to make this pointless).

  2. Of course, if you got rid of people who used the paper bags as well, there would be even less impact upon the environment.
    We could close the entire country down tomorrow and it would make not a jot of difference to the global situation.

  3. Thrifty – But trees grow again?  And why can’t they make paper from hemp with a high THC content?  I’d be all for that.

    Ian – If you rid the world of all tree-huggers and climate change activists we would all be a lot better off, and the world would get along very nicely.

  4. That article states “Friends of the Irish Environment have written to Minister Gormley on the matter”.
    What did they use to write on?

  5. Taking it literaly, they wrote on “the matter” which could be dried human excrement?  One can but hope?

  6. “Friends of the Irish Environment have written to Minister Gormley on the matter”.

    Another vital issue for old Gormless to tackle, glad to see our tree hugging buddies are not wasting his valuable time. I’ts not as if there are any other serious issues or problems to be tackled at the moment.

  7. wonderful paps. never thought of that. dried excrement. now of course you have given the ‘Friends’ a new green (brown) idea.

  8. The answer of course is to keep actual non disposable shopping bags in the back of the car.  Our kroger,  Publix sell ’em. Probably Aldi does too.

  9. Here will be the ultimate solution, a total ban on plastic bans as is the case in San Francisco – and as the investigation points out – based entirely on junk-science claims – political goals trump science once again.

    The city’s politicos made the enviros happy by banning plastic bags, but left us with more pollution and cost
    Published on January 05, 2009 at 7:00pm

    San Francisco is a city that enjoys being scratched behind the ears by an adoring world. And the city was certainly purring a little more than a year ago when it banned plastic shopping bags, which triggered adoring headlines around the globe. Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, the ban’s primary author, was fêted in publications from The Economist to People (which gave the photogenic supe a full-page spread). Locally, the ban was a hit: San Francisco was a national trendsetter and a world leader in the green movement.

    Still, a number of cities and even nations have weighed the scientific evidence and concluded that a San Francisco–style ban simply shunts shoppers to paper bags and is markedly worse for the environment than the status quo.

    “Paper bags have a greater environmental impact than plastic bags, and therefore you would not create a policy that banned plastic and forced everyone to use paper only,” said Dick Lilly, the manager of the waste prevention program for Seattle Public Utilities.

    Intuitively, you would expect a correspondingly massive reduction in the number of plastic bags blowing through our city. Yet that hasn’t happened. The city’s “Streets Litter Audit” is a fantastically detailed document; it even codifies what brand of cigarettes San Franciscans most frequently dispose of improperly (Marlboros, by a mile). Yet regarding plastic shopping bags, the researchers found more of them on the streets in post-ban 2008 than pre-ban ’07.

    As for ban proponents’ fervent claims that plastic bags were clogging our landfills, this triggered bouts of head-shaking and wan smiles from those in the know. While a visit to the Pit reveals seas of plastic bags, by weight and volume they occupy only a minuscule percentage of landfill space. A 2003 survey commissioned by the California Integrated Waste Management Board estimated that plastic grocery bags represent 0.4 percent of the waste stream. Paper bags tallied 1 percent.
    The argument that biodegradability is paper bags’ saving grace is extremely problematic. Firstly, biodegrading paper represents a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions. Secondly, in a properly run landfill, paper doesn’t really biodegrade. In fact, nothing much really does.

    Professor William Rathje, currently on leave from Stanford’s archaeology department, has excavated 21 landfills in the United States and Canada. Among other things, he’s discovered that we greatly overstate the amount of vegetables we eat while heavily understating the amount of alcohol we drink. But he has also pulled “mummified,” readable newspapers of the “Dewey Defeats Truman” era out of landfills, along with intact vegetables, hot dogs, and paper sacks sturdy enough to tote them in. Digging through the dirt, Rathje has found that while Americans are using more and more plastic goods, they occupy less and less volume in our landfills due to “lightweighting.” Between 1976 and 1992, plastic grocery bags’ thickness was reduced by half; today, they are thinner still. While paper products now often incorporate more recycled content, they haven’t grown thinner — if anything, it’s the opposite. So even if, as the city’s Department of the Environment claims, half of San Francisco’s paper grocery bags are recycled, that still means millions are going into landfill, where they occupy scads more space than the plastic bags they replaced — and will, for a long time.
    “Plastic bags, especially in landfills, take up so much less volume than paper bags,” Rathje says. “If you’re worried about the amount of space in landfills taken up by plastic bags — don’t.”

    The notion that replacing plastic grocery bags with paper ones benefits the environment depends upon a rather chauvinistic definition of “environment.” San Francisco’s ban was meant to rid the city of the bags we see — blowing through our streets, gumming up our recycling machines. It isn’t concerned with the ramifications of paper bags we don’t see: tens of thousands of trees being felled, pulp and paper plants disgorging noxious chemicals into the air and water, and seven times the exhaust-belching trucks required to transport the bulkier paper bags across the nation and deliver them to local stores.

    According to the Environmental Defense Fund’s “paper calculator” — and factoring in the city’s requirement that bags be composed of at least 40 percent recycled material — the ecological consequences are staggering. That many paper bags weigh about 5,250 tons, which results in the felling of 72,000 trees, sulfur dioxide emissions of 91,200 pounds, the release of 21.5 million pounds of greenhouse gases, and the generation of 40 million gallons of wastewater.

    In the past two decades, a number of “Life-Cycle Analyses” (LCAs) have measured the “cradle to grave” environmental impact of plastic and paper shopping bags. SF Weekly was unable to track down any that rated paper as being more environmentally beneficial overall. Again and again, paper bags were found to require more energy to create and transport, emit more greenhouse gases, generate more water and air pollution, consume far more fresh water, produce much more solid waste, and produce markedly more eutrophication of water bodies (a condition in which an excess of nutrients, often nitrogen, leads to choking algae infestations).

    These findings do not much impress Jack Macy and Robert Haley of the San Francisco Department of the Environment, two of the longtime movers and shakers behind the city’s quest to quit plastic. Haley notes that “you can always get an LCA to support your view,” and brushes it off as “bogus science” irreparably tainted by its connection to industry.

    When it comes to “bogus science,” a helping of it found its way into San Francisco’s anti-plastic-bag ordinance. The text refers to the “12 million barrels of oil” required to produce the 100 billion plastic bags Americans use each year. While these figures proliferate on the Internet, neither is verifiable. Even the American Chemistry Council is unsure exactly how many bags Americans use each year, and the notion of oil barrels is curious considering the vast majority of plastic bags produced in this country are derived from natural gas (the industry claims 85 percent of plastic bags used in America are domestically made).
    The man claiming credit for this ubiquitous statistic is Vince Cobb, a 42-year-old Chicagoan who sells reusable bags on the Internet. Cobb told SF Weekly he did a back-of-the-envelope calculation cribbing an estimate on American plastic bag use from an old Wall Street Journal article and plugging in the number of British Thermal Units required to create one plastic bag according to a 20-year-old Society of Plastics Industry text. He then searched the Internet to determine the number of BTUs in a barrel of oil.
    San Francisco’s ordinance also trumpets the much-recited figure that plastic bags are responsible for the yearly deaths of 100,000 marine animals and millions of birds. These figures have utterly no basis in fact, and their worldwide proliferation is the result of what, for lack of a better term, could be described as an epic Internet screw-up. The figure is derived from a 1987 Canadian study claiming that, between 1981 and 1984, more than 100,000 marine birds and mammals died in discarded fishing nets. And yet, when the above passage was reprinted in a 2002 Australian study of plastic bags, the words “fishing nets” were, inexplicably, replaced by “plastic bags.” From there, the Internet served as a misinformation superhighway, and the legend became fact. Combined with heartbreaking photographs of bags choking sea turtles and suffocating shorebirds, the statistic gave strength to growing movements to ban the bag — as evidenced by its inclusion in San Francisco’s ordinance.
    “It’s very unlikely that many animals are killed by plastic bags; the evidence shows just the opposite,” Greenpeace marine biologist David Santillo told the Times of London. “With larger mammals, it’s fishing gear that’s the big problem. On a global basis, plastic bags aren’t an issue.”

    In other words, have a political agenda in mind first and foremost, have the ends (political target) justify the means (lies, propaganda, name-calling), utilize junk-science to manufacture propaganda statements to support an all-out ban, ignore the facts of science and physics, ram-rod it through, call anyone bringing true-science or facts into the debate as “biased” and “liars” (sounds like the case made against “big evil tobacco” when the second-hand-smoke study facts were villified in favor of pushing through the propaganda based on junk-science as the role model on how to politically manipulate these sorts of things) and soon we have the kind of lovely “everything banned” world we are living in today.

    Get ready for a plastic bags ban soon.  The “science” will say-so and anyone in disagreement will be a “liar”.

  10. Welcome J!!  You have arrived with a bang!  In fact, plastic bags have in effect been banned here for yoears.  They imposed a tax on them at the point of sale, so of course the shops just stopped giving them out.

    This is a very impressibe piece of input!  [as an aside – it’s longer than any single article I have written in three years!].  Once again, we are seeing junk science and slight of hand at play – the same tactics that are employed in the smoking / passive smoking propaganda, and also the Global Warming scam.  Throw enough figures around and mention a few Big Names and you can argue what you like.  The public will believe it if they want to believe it.

  11. Whenever anybody tries to do ANYTHING ecological out of the woodwork come the naysayers with their claims of “junk science” whatever the fuck that is. Sorry but y’all piss me off.

  12. And this is why there’s naysayers you give these bloody greens an inch and they run amock trying to ban paper bags (course if we do that less tree’s will be needed so less will be grown leading to less tree’s) ban plastic bags tax the balls off us so we don’t hurt the bunny rabbits with our silly stuff like “progress” and human happyness who need’s heating a reliable power sources and car’s that can go more than 10 miles with out a 10 hour recharge anyway ? sure wind mills will do it all for us! and by Christ we better make sure those silly poor people in africa and asia not develop themselves with cheap and reliable sources of power like coal ! hell no its best if they stay in abject property for the sake of blessed gaia besides arent they really better off liveing in their mud huts surronded by their family ? sure thats a great community we in the west lack ! progress would screw that for em. The sooner these people are exposed for the bunch of anti human anti progress bastards they are the better the amount of human misery they cause should ensure a fucking trial for crimes against humanity we are lucky its just merley annoying or possible damageing in the short term for us but in place’s this shit is killing people.

  13. Good man yourself ……. ? Oh, there’s nobody left to argue it with ‘cos it’s a dead fuckin’ planet.

  14. Riiiiiight a dead planet a planet that survived for 6 billion year’s countless ice ages heat waves changes in co2/oxygen levels a collision with a god damn planet the size of mar’s changes in the placement of the landmass’s massive volcanic eruptions that blotted out the sun for year’s etc is going to be dead anyy day now and its all because of us awful humans :*( … as for humans we have survived ice age’s a much worse faith than heating hell ireland was under a mile of ice not 20,000 year’s ago and yes! even hot periods such as the mediveal warming a time when the population of europe boomed due to better crop growing conditions greenland was colonixed and all other sorts of awful things happened.
    and the next time someone tells you “omg the warmest day since records begin was in 1998” remind yourself that was nearly 12 year’s ago 12years of the world not heating indeed there’s an increasing number of scientists that beleave we are heading into a 30 year long cycle of cooling so perhapes we should all get ready for the next ice age? anyone for some huddling for body warmth?
    Also you really need to question any “scientists” that deal in “might happen” “could” “has a chance of” and othe such vage bull 50 year’s into the future and demand soild real changes now based on such unknowns.

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