I am feeling irked right now. In order to be 'environmentally conscious,' our local supermarkets have banned the supremely useful plastic bag. You know, the one we get our groceries in, then, almost always, use again for something else, and finally, use to enclose some smelly rubbish for the bin. They call it the 'single-use' plastic bag, but they are seldom 'single use.' Nearly all of the truly single use plastic bags are still there, from those flimsy plastic bags for fruits and vegetables, to the black plastic bags that come in rolls at beaches in the hope that dog owners will pick up after their dogs.
So much other plastic that we could do without. I had a takeaway lunch. It came in a cardboard box in a paper bag, but the plastic knife and fork I didn't want was in a sliver of plastic. Of course.
If I thought that banning this particular item of all the other plastic we use daily would do the slightest good for the environment, I would not be so annoyed. Yes, if you are on the coast, it could get into the ocean and a turtle could make itself sick on it. But I live hundreds of miles from the coast, and as far as I can see, all it will do is increase the unenclosed rubbish that flies breed in, and rats thrive on.
It is the hypocrisy that annoys me most! It is like they just wave the banner and pretend they care about the environment while not actually doing anything effective.
There are many examples of virtue-signalling about the environment - except that, so often, the overall effect is negative, not positive. It appears that effectiveness is not important to those who push various initiatives - just the appearance of caring.
A new Recycling system:
For a long time, we have had recycling bins for drink containers as well as other recyclables such as newspapers. It was successful, recycling rate around 80%, and it was convenient.
So now, our council has put in, at colossal expense, a much more elaborate system for recycling drink containers. There was publicity, all with a very positive slant, and they say it is 'successful' because people are using it - far more people than I had expected. That is probably because all of our cans and bottles now cost more to cover the cost of the new initiative, and people can get a refund of 10c each, provided the can or bottle can still be scanned. So it must not be crushed, and it must still have the label. Does it sound good? How has it turned out?
The recycling of cans and bottles is now a combination of the new and old systems. Overall results - around 80%.
But with the new system, people have to keep their cans and bottles intact, they must be conveyed to the recycling centre, (by car, and usually contained in plastic bags) inserted into the machine, one by one, and the person then claims a refund of 10c each - which involves more time and trouble.
But people are using it. I guess they don't like being defrauded 10c for every can or bottle they buy.
Others of us consider the small refund not worth the trouble, and still drop the cans and bottles into the recycling bin at home, the way we have for the past twenty years or so.
Overall effect of the new system? It costs more to the council, it costs more for the individual, it takes more time, and is more of an effort for individuals, for council, and for the retailers where the credits are redeemed. It has made no difference to the litter around. The rate of recycling is unchanged.
But it looks good, and that appears to be all that matters.
And maybe a factor is that it is acting as a de facto sugar tax - soft drinks cost more (though so does Diet Coke) and an alcohol tax - cans of beer cost more. Could that have been a factor in its adoption? There is always someone pushing for taxes on consumer goods deemed unhealthy, the sort of 'health police' who feel that other people cannot be trusted to make the 'right' choices.
There is actually one unforeseen benefit - at a caravan park, I saw a ragged couple going through the recycling bin and removing all the intact cans and bottles in order that they could claim the refund. It may have been little money for a lot of dirty work, but they explained that they didn't like dealing with Social Security. So there is one good effect to put against the bad. It has nothing to do with recycling and the environment, however.
Remember 'Earth Hour?'
It started in Sydney in 2007. We were all supposed to switch off all lights for one hour in a year, in order so save electricity and to advertise how virtuous we were in caring for the environment. Enthusiasm spread, and many cities around the world adopted it. I never thought it would make any difference except maybe to increase the likelihood of muggings in that hour, so never bothered with it. It is now over ten years later, and I don't think that many bother with it any more, though it does continue to limp along.
It is another example of hypocrisy. It doesn't seem to matter if something actually does good, as long as one can boast about it as if it did.
Trying too hard
Most of us try to do the right thing, but sometimes it is better to understand that recycled goods are not actually worth that much.
* I am thinking of an old, old lady I knew, fragile skin at risk as she conscientiously scrubs out cat food tins, jagged edged, in order to put them, clean, into the recycling bin, as the council requires. But a tear in that skin would not quickly heal. There would be extra visits from the district nurse, extra dressings, maybe antibiotics. For a tin that is worth almost nothing, sometimes less than nothing.
* On the local news was an item about a family who boasts that almost nothing goes into the rubbish bin. Everything is recycled, including tiny scraps of paper. They were applauded, and obviously thought they were being oh, so virtuous!
But the contents of those recycling bins are sorted by hand, by lines of workers wearing gloves, picking out plastic to put into one bin, glass into another, paper into another. None of it is worth very much, and to pick out every small piece of 'recyclable' is a waste of time and effort. Large pieces, sure. Tiny bits of paper? No. All that family was doing was making the job more difficult for the sorters.
* Some time ago, I saw a feature about those wonderful people far out in the remote drylands of Western Australia, carefully preserving all their glass recyclables. Then it was shipped all the way back to civilisation where it was finally processed.
Sadly, the fuel required and the wear and tear on the trucks and the roads would be far more than the tiny amount that the glass could be sold for. Since then, the market for recycled glass has further collapsed. No-one wants it.
* Trucks of recycled goods are sent interstate, or sometimes just dumped. No-one wants it, and those who agree to accept it, charge for the disposal. There are scandals when it turns out that it ends up either in illegal dumps, or sometimes simply stored - indefinitely. Think fire risk as well as everything else. What has anyone gained?
Trade and Commerce
There are some things that appear to make no sense at all. Shipping Australian prawns off to Asia to be processed and then returned to Australia. Buying things as mundane as disposable nappies that
There is also the risk of accidents. A ship ironically named 'Efficiency' has lost over eighty containers overboard, now creating a hazard to shipping and a mess onshore. (left)
|Imported cars, stacks of containers|
But those in authority will not consider these environmental hazards. They prefer to focus on little things that might inconvenience people, but have no actual positive impact on the environment. It is all about the appearance of things. It is hypocrisy.
So what can individuals do that is actually useful?
One could try thrift, but that is not a modern virtue. Those of us who are older are the ones who re-use rather than buying new. At the same time as the useless plastic bag ban, we happened to have a household rubbish collection day. People put out their unwanted items, and council kindly collects it for us. And while a lot of it is truly rubbish, there are also things that only need a coat of paint and maybe a bit of repair, and they are useful again.
One could almost furnish a house from what is left to be collected, and if no-one finds it first, it will be crushed and buried as rubbish. And that waste grieves me. Surely, if the council was really interested in being 'green,' they would make an effort to allow these things to be re-used, not by the sort of 'recycling' that results in mounds or bales of plastic or glass or paper than no-one wants to buy, but real recycling - re-using. Making and mending rather than discarding.
So what do we have, right now, in my neighbourhood, left around for those of us willing to recycle in the best way possible?
There are colourful children's toys, appearing new, numerous chairs, some of them
repairable, two washing machines that appear new, a new-looking fan, presumably no longer wanted, wardrobes and desks, and plenty of timber for the home handyman. The items in the picture left are merely those within a few houses of us. There are treasures further afield.
|Dirty, with a rusted tap.|
Now a garden ornament
|The garden bench only needed a bit of a repair and a re-paint|
|The inside coating was too rough for cooking,|
fine as a planter once a few holes were added.
It is actually the trendies who are so adamant that others should be inconvenienced who are the worst for unnecessary consumption. Throw out the old, buy new. A coat of paint for that table? Never. Second-hand toys or clothes for your special child? Don't be silly. There's a piece of standard advice that goes "Check your wardrobe and if you have not worn it in the last year, throw it out." They have to have the new, the fashionable, the latest upgrade with never a thought that this, THIS! is bad for the environment.
Every new item has to be made, has to be shipped, has to be sold, has to be brought home. And all of this is expense, it causes pollution, and if you think carbon emissions are a sinister new thing, it causes that too.
But we have to have 'Growth.' The GDP must rise every year, and in that cause, our government ensures that we have a rapidly growing population. Australia has one of the fast growing populations in the world, though by immigration rather than by a high birth rate.
But continual growth is NOT good. We are like a person already obese, who continues to eat in order to grow bigger and bigger and bigger until they are useless to themselves and to everyone else.
A new theory of economics is needed
We need a way of managing our affairs that promotes stability, and does not depend on an ever-increasing population with an ever-increasing consumption of the earth's resources.
Until this happens, gestures like the banning of plastic bags will be just that - futile gestures.
More about plastic bags
Since the ban on plastic bags has come into effect, there have been several commentators pointing out a few relevant facts, such as that the ordinary plastic bag is actually more 'environmentally friendly' than a cloth bag. And such that re-using bags can result in the harbouring of bacteria and the cross contamination of food.
Andrew Bolt "Maximum politics for minimum gain."
And here is an interesting excerpt:
"Assessment of the Potential for Cross-Contamination of Food Products by Reusable Shopping Bags, was conducted by researchers from Loma Linda and Arizona universities. He is the abstract (with emphasis and a link added):
The purpose of this study was to assess the potential for cross-contamination of food products by reusable bags used to carry groceries. Reusable bags were collected at random from consumers as they entered grocery stores in California and Arizona. In interviews, it was found that reusable bags are seldom if ever washed and often used for multiple purposes. Large numbers of bacteria were found in almost all bags and coliform bacteria in half. Escherichia coli were identified in 8% of the bags, as well as a wide range of enteric bacteria, including several opportunistic pathogens.
When meat juices were added to bags and stored in the trunks of cars for two hours, the number of bacteria increased 10-fold, indicating the potential for bacterial growth in the bags. Hand or machine washing was found to reduce the bacteria in bags by > 99.9%. These results indicate that reusable bags, if not properly washed on a regular basis, can play a role in the cross-contamination of foods. It is recommended that the public be educated about the proper care of reusable bags by means of printed instructions on the bags or through public service announcements.
The same study found no bacterial presence whatsoever in single-use plastic bags."https://www.facebook.com/dallas.beaufort/posts/10155757485359370
And just a small fact to finish:
Brown paper bags cost 7 times more in 'emissions' than a plastic bag
Cotton bags cost 327 times more.
So don't criticize those of your acquaintances who claim that what you see as a nice thing for the environment - 'Save the planet' etc, is maybe not as useful as you thought. We all care for the environment. So many beautiful places to see, and no-one wants it ruined. But when there are initiatives marketed as helping to 'save the planet,' it is a good idea to first think about whether its overall impact is positive or negative.