Monday, 21 February 2011

Plastic Fantastic?

An article in the Independent on Sunday yesterday reported on unpublished government research on plastic bags which was purported to show plastic bags as a greener option than re-usable ones.

This has been done before with re-usable nappies v disposables and with plastic cups v washable ones, but these always seem to be based on flawed assumptions about how long they're used for and ignore the whole of the life-cycle of the items concerned.

The article says:

"Six billion plastic bags are used across the UK annually and there is no doubt that they cause environmental problems such as litter and marine pollution as well as using up oil, and limiting their use and re-using them reduces their harm."

so it begs the question as to why it is a controversial topic at all. If the only issue is about other bags not being re-used enough, then we need to make sure that they're well enough made that they don't need to be thrown away. Personally, I've never thrown away a cotton or jute bag - they can be used again and again - I only ever refuse them at events where people are trying to give them away, so as not to end up with more than I could possibly use.

The report doesn't seem to look at recycling, the raw materials needed for different bags or the effect of all the bags that aren't disposed of properly (ending up in hedgerows, blowing across our streets or in waterways).

Paper bags probably aren't always the best option either, but the evidence for plastic is certainly not strong enough to revisit the direction of policy to go in their favour.

Joe Peacock

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