FW: Series of blunders turned the plastic bag into global villain

Something for our Stupervisors to read....Sean Elsbernd would be
friendly to this.



Series of blunders turned the plastic bag into global villain

Alexi Mostrous

Scientists and environmentalists have attacked a global campaign to ban
plastic bags which they say is based on flawed science and exaggerated

The widely stated accusation that the bags kill 100,000 animals and a
million seabirds every year are false, experts have told The Times. They
pose only a minimal threat to most marine species, including seals,
whales, dolphins and seabirds.

Gordon Brown announced last month that he would force supermarkets to
charge for the bags, saying that they were "one of the most visible
symbols of environmental waste". Retailers and some pressure groups,
including the Campaign to Protect Rural England, threw their support
behind him.

But scientists, politicians and marine experts attacked the Government
for joining a "bandwagon" based on poor science.

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Lord Taverne, the chairman of Sense about Science, said: "The Government
is irresponsible to jump on a bandwagon that has no base in scientific
evidence. This is one of many examples where you get bad science leading
to bad decisions which are counter-productive. Attacking plastic bags
makes people feel good but it doesn't achieve anything."

Campaigners say that plastic bags pollute coastlines and waterways,
killing or injuring birds and livestock on land and, in the oceans,
destroying vast numbers of seabirds, seals, turtles and whales. However,
The Times has established that there is no scientific evidence to show
that the bags pose any direct threat to marine mammals.

They "don't figure" in the majority of cases where animals die from
marine debris, said David Laist, the author of a seminal 1997 study on
the subject. Most deaths were caused when creatures became caught up in
waste produce. "Plastic bags don't figure in entanglement," he said.
"The main culprits are fishing gear, ropes, lines and strapping bands.
Most mammals are too big to get caught up in a plastic bag."

He added: "The impact of bags on whales, dolphins, porpoises and seals
ranges from nil for most species to very minor for perhaps a few
species.For birds, plastic bags are not a problem either."

The central claim of campaigners is that the bags kill more than 100,000
marine mammals and one million seabirds every year. However, this figure
is based on a misinterpretation of a 1987 Canadian study in
Newfoundland, which found that, between 1981 and 1984, more than 100,000
marine mammals, including birds, were killed by discarded nets. The
Canadian study did not mention plastic bags.

Fifteen years later in 2002, when the Australian Government commissioned
a report into the effects of plastic bags, its authors misquoted the
Newfoundland study, mistakenly attributing the deaths to "plastic bags".

The figure was latched on to by conservationists as proof that the bags
were killers. For four years the "typo" remained uncorrected. It was
only in 2006 that the authors altered the report, replacing "plastic
bags" with "plastic debris". But they admitted: "The actual numbers of
animals killed annually by plastic bag litter is nearly impossible to

In a postscript to the correction they admitted that the original
Canadian study had referred to fishing tackle, not plastic debris, as
the threat to the marine environment.

Regardless, the erroneous claim has become the keystone of a widening
campaign to demonise plastic bags.

David Santillo, a marine biologist at Greenpeace, told The Times that
bad science was undermining the Government's case for banning the bags.
"It's very unlikely that many animals are killed by plastic bags," he
said. "The evidence shows just the opposite. We are not going to solve
the problem of waste by focusing on plastic bags.

"It doesn't do the Government's case any favours if you've got
statements being made that aren't supported by the scientific literature
that's out there. With larger mammals it's fishing gear that's the big
problem. On a global basis plastic bags aren't an issue. It would be
great if statements like these weren't made."

Geoffrey Cox, a Tory member of the Commons Environment Select Committee,
said: "I don't like plastic bags and I certainly support restricting
their use, but plainly it's extremely important that before we take any
steps we should rely on accurate information. It is bizarre that any
campaign should be endorsed on the basis of a mistranslation. Gordon
Brown should get his facts right."

A 1968 study of albatross carcasses found that 90 per cent contained
some form of plastic but only two birds had ingested part of a plastic

Professor Geoff Boxshall, a marine biologist at the Natural History
Museum, said: "I've never seen a bird killed by a plastic bag. Other
forms of plastic in the ocean are much more damaging. Only a very small
proportion is caused by bags."

Plastic particles known as nurdles, dumped in the sea by industrial
companies, form a much greater threat as they can be easily consumed by
birds and animals. Many British groups are now questioning whether a ban
on bags would cost consumers more than the environmental benefits.

Charlie Mayfield, chairman of retailer John Lewis, said that tackling
packaging waste and reducing carbon emissions were far more important
goals. "We don't see reducing the use of plastic bags as our biggest
priority," he said. "Of all the waste that goes to landfill, 20 per cent
is household waste and 0.3 per cent is plastic bags." John Lewis added
that a scheme in Ireland had reduced plastic bag usage, but sales of bin
liners had increased 400 per cent.

The UK is an island. We're running out of space to bury all this

Steg, Banbury, UK

If plastic bags are preferred by consumers over, let's say, paper bags,
they are no more wasteful or ridiculous than the product they are
carrying. If mr. Bethlehem doesn't want to use plastic bags it's in his
own birthright to do so, as well as spreading the message. If however,
special-interest groups try to get their subjective preferences into
government policy it's a whole different story. Because, essentially,
government is per definition wasteful and ridiculous (which is, if it
did not exist, not wanted or preferred by many people; the people who do
prefer it could always opt for being voluntary slaves).

Arend, NL,

I suppose 100,000 thousand birds is a lot. But did you know that
approximately 1 BILLION birds die in the US by flying into buildings
(they don't see the glass).

ref: http://www.birdsandbuildings.org/faqs.html#4

That is to say for every 1 bird supposedly killed by a plastic bag,
10,000 are killed by flying into buildings.

Whatever...when I'm asked for paper or plastic, I say, "plastic,

Bill Wangard, Evanston, IL