Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Save The Carrier Bag

Of all the lost causes that this blog supports, the campaign to defend the carrier bag seems the most Quixotic. After all, who can love the humble supermarket carrier bag? They're cheap, ugly and functional items that manage to unite forces as disparate as the BBC, the Daily Mail and legions of right-thinking people everywhere. But not here.

Firstly, let's note that the terminology around these bags has shifted. The bags are now referred to as 'single-use carrier' bags, to emphasise the wastefulness of the whole enterprise. Single-use is bad by definition, however, who decided that supermarket carrier bags are single use? Most people I know generally re-use the bags. A lot of people have a pile of them at home for storing and carrying all kinds of stuff, including taking them back to the shops to use again.

Next we have to look at why 'single-use' has such negative connotations, and it's all to do with using up the Earth's scarce resources. Except that supermarket carrier bags are made from polyethelene, which comes from ethelene which is a waste product from natural gas production. If it wasn't used as a feedstock, then the ethelene would have to be burned off - which is both wasting energy and also produces more CO2 emissions (if you care about such things). So, far from wasting valuable resources, making carrier backs finds a use for an existing by-product.

But surely bags from renewables - like paper - would be better for the environment? Nope. Think again. Carrier bags are light, and take less energy to produce and transport than paper bags. According a story from the Independent (hardly a bastion of contrarian thinking), a study sponsored by the Enviornment Agency, showed that polyethelene carrier bags have about less than a third of the carbon emissions of paper bags.

Ah, but what about the pollution? What about the plastic 'garbage patch' twice the size of Texas in the middle of the Pacific? We've all seen the pictures in the Daily Mail... Sorry, overdone. Not only is the size of the problem exagerrated, there's also not much evidence that carrier bags are a key component of the pollution.

So, in all, the plastic carrier bag is yet another example of environmentalism wanting to solve non-existent problems. The solutions proposed end up being worse for the environment, and in the process make life just that little bit more expensive and a little less convenient. So, par for the course really.

1 comment:

Edward Spalton said...

I am not sure how accurate the report was (or my memory of it) but I seem to remember that Ireland introduced a statutory charge on each supermarket "single use" bag. I think it was 9 cents.

The result was that the sales of bin liners went up by approximately the same weght of plastic as the supermarket consumption decreased. The only difference was that the customers paid more whatever they did.