Friday, 15 February 2013

Plastic bags are good for the environment:

Remember the olden days – metal garbage bins filled with unmentionable and very smelly rubbish – food scraps, meat, fish, vegetable – and sometimes worse. If left for very long, there would be maggots starting to appear, and always – blowflies circling the bin, looking for entry.
Then along came plastic bags, free with the groceries, and food started being enclosed in plastic bags as a routine. Smells vastly reduced, and no more breeding of blowflies. You may not have noticed, but there are far fewer flies around than there used to be. (Though in South Australia there are still a lot – they’ve banned the giving away of plastic bags in South Australia.)

But you cry  – they are bad for the environment. They kill fish, do not decompose, are around forever,  take up too much space in landfill…

So, one by one.

Killing fish.  We kill far, far more ourselves, both to eat and others that get caught as a by product of the catch. I don’t know how many fish are so stupid as to eat plastic bags,  but like most other animals, fish are more intelligent than they are given credit for. Certainly do not throw plastic bags into the sea – or any other rubbish. But they are an infinitesimal proportion of the rubbish that goes into oceans. The problem has been vastly exaggerated.

They do not decompose?  Maybe twenty years ago they were slow to decompose, but this nonsense about them lasting 10,000 years or whatever... Well, really!  These days you’re lucky sometimes to get your groceries home without the plastic bag falling to bits. And so many have holes in them so that they cannot be re-used. Plastic bags are one of the most useful things around  -  for holding groceries, for storing things, for containing rubbish, especially smelly rubbish – think of not just meat or fish scraps, but babies’ nappies, women’s sanitary pads, old people’s incontinence pants, sick people’s stoma bags…   We are told to use paper instead, maybe old newspapers.  Maybe those who tell us this have not noticed that wet newspapers fall to bits?

They take up space in a landfill.  Well, yes, they do – enclosing lots of other rubbish. I bet those who work at a tip are grateful for plastic bags – the work would be a lot more horrible without them.

No. The fuss about plastic bags is just a way of pretending to care for the environment while never tackling any of the actual problems. Most things we do to 'save the planet' are either futile or worse, have the opposite effect.

Example:  Take the older cars off the roads. They give off more ‘greenhouse gases’ and use more petrol.  But:  Making a single new car sends out more greenhouse gases and uses more resources than the tiny amount of difference between the running costs of a new car as opposed to an old car.   Balance sheet – better to keep the old car.

Example:  Make the old-fashioned light globes impossible to obtain, therefore forcing people to buy the new ones that are supposedly more energy efficient. But: the old light globes were very efficient. Even in rooms where they were used all the time, they lasted years, and accounted for a very small proportion of electricity used by a household. And the new ones  have problems – they take a while to be bright enough, meaning that in places like toilets and bathrooms where you need the light for only a short time, it is not efficient.
More seriously, they are a safety hazard. The new ones can’t be used with dimmer switches, touch lamps or sensor lights.  (I have heard that there are new varieties though now.)  I have seen smoke issuing from a light with a dimmer switch when a new light bulb was put in, but then luckily the bulb blew, too soon for it to start a fire. But if even one house fire was started like this, the smoke put into the atmosphere would exceed the emissions supposedly reduced by the switch.  There have been a lot of  fires in recent years blamed on ‘electrical problems.’ It is a few years since the old-fashioned light globes became unobtainable, just about the time when some of them finally blow. (They usually lasted between 3 and 20 years, depending on what room they were in and how much used.)  So how many of these ‘electrical problems’ are caused by using the new light bulbs with an  older fitting that is unsuited to it. As far as I know, there have never been any warnings about this.
One more thing – a lot of light fittings simply would not accommodate the new globes, meaning that people had to buy new light fittings – which had to be manufactured, using various resources, and then moved to where they were needed, using trucks or ships or trains, all of which require power. 
Balance sheet -  very much on the negative side.

Water savings. 
Water is a finite resource, they tell us. Use it wisely. But actually – water goes around and around. It gets evaporated, it condenses and returns purified as rain. I learned that in primary school. Could we be making a mistake trying too hard to conserve water? 

Example:  closing over bore-drains.  Open bore drains for irrigation used to ‘lose’ a lot of water to evaporation. They were also a resource for wild animals and birds. They are being closed over, so no more evaporation and no more watering points for the animals. Swimming pools are supposed to be covered, watering of gardens and laws strictly limited, all to reduce ‘losses’ from evaporation. Could it be contributing to reduced rainfall?  I do not have the answers, I have not done the studies, but maybe it’s time to at least ask the question.   

There are other ways that trying to reduce water use has a poor effect:

Example: dual flush toilets. I don’t know about every dual flush toilet, but I am far from impressed with ours. It was a few years ago now that we needed new toilets, and it’s the only type they seem to sell these days. They are inefficient, Too often, two or even three flushes are required to do the job, which uses more water than a single efficient flush. 
Example:  Not always flushing:  There was a new saying put about last drought - ‘If  it’s yellow, let it mellow, if it’s brown, flush it down.’  Think of the smell, think of the yellow stains, requiring more powerful chemical to make your toilet clean again, - it's poor on the balance sheet for that alone.  But also, it is apt to cause problems with the sewer pipes -  if there is not enough water to sufficiently flush the pipes, then there will be blockages which require more power and more water just to clear the blockage and flush the pipes.   
Example: Save water by collecting water in the kitchen sink. We saved water that way and put it on the garden – until we noticed how the water pipes were beginning to smell. ‘Environmental flows’ are needed for water and sewer pipes as much as they are needed for rivers. 
Example: Save water by having a bucket in your shower to try and collect some of the wasted water.  I tried this once, didn’t collect much, and nearly tripped over the dammed thing. Never again. A few days later, a surgeon was on the news advising against it. Just one old person with a broken hip because of it, would use more water than was ever saved with this practice. Good intentions maybe, but risky and ineffective.

A few things utterly futile:

People want to do the right thing, but seize on things that are useless.  ‘Earth Hour.’  For one hour in the year, switch off lights.  It started in Australia and has spread overseas. I don’t know how many robberies are timed for ‘Earth Hour’ or how many people are hurt knocking over things in the dark, but in any case, how could anyone think that turning off the lights for an hour could have any effect when for every other hour, things are so very lit up. I saw an image of an American city not long ago, and it appeared that every square yard for every building was illuminated. Not that is wastage on a ground scale. 

So what can we do for the environment if whatever we try is either futile or has the opposite effect?

The root problems that we encounter are from two causes:

The first is that all countries are driven by the Economics theory that growth is good. It appears that economists do not believe that there could be any such thing as stability. So every year, GDP (Gross Domestic Product) has to be higher than the previous year. Every year, profits of every business should go up. Every year, people need to buy more things whether or not they are needed, spend more money, upgrade their mobile phone, their car, have a bigger house… When ‘consumer confidence’ drops, and spending is reduced, it is spoken of as a real concern. The economy, as it is at the moment, depends on everything being more and bigger and even more – every year.
And every year, there should be more people to drive more growth and give us a healthy economy. And this, of course, is the big, big, BIG problem that we have to cope with. There are too many of us – too many people needing electricity, too many people needing shelter and water and food. We need to develop a new theory of economics that does not depend on constant growth, and we need to convince people, especially religious leaders, that zero population growth, as was pushed fifty years ago, is essential. If it had been adopted then, we might have been getting closer to a stable population now.


In third world countries and in first world countries, surely it is better to have two children you can rear properly than to have ten that you rear in poverty.

 There are too many people, and this is the cause of every single environmental problem that we have.

We can keep trying. Wind power's good, certainly better than the disastrous 'Hydraulic Fracturing' or 'Fracking' that is used to extract coal seam gas.


  1. Actually, world population is already on a path toward rapid decline. See, e.g., And, as with pretty much every other outcome advocated by "progressive" reformers, don't expect this will turn out to be a sunny and joy-filled new world of rainbows and unicorns.

  2. A declining population will mean cheaper houses, so if your investments were in real estate, you will not profit. There will be other changes, many that will disadvantage individuals. It does not matter. It is essential.
    And yes, some European countries have a stable population now, at least if it were not for immigration. But they've been saying that world population would decline for the last fifty years. In that time, it has increased by 3 billion! It cannot go on.

  3. What a sensible post. My town has recently banned plastic bags. It mostly has resulted in me buying a lot less--I can only buy what fits in the bag I keep in my purse. But it also means I have smellier garbage so the raccoons get in the bin and make a mess. And I have to carry things in the rain in paper bags that disintegrate or cloth ones that get soggy. I used to re-use every plastic bag several times. But now I'm out of them and a whole lot of stress has been added to my life for no particular reason. Population stability would make much more sense.

  4. I discovered you can buy suitable sized plastic bags - just that they cost 200 times as much as they would have cost to make.
    There are certain stores that ban plastic bags, or make you pay far more than they're worth - I boycott them.

  5. When strategies for saving water backfire - another example that I came across today. Some public toilets are not cleaned nearly as often as needed. If the flush is so poor, the amount of water so scanty, that the sides of the toilet bowl are not washed off, then certain debris sticks and goes hard...
    Not nice. Better to use an effective flush to begin with than to need more water down the track along with cleaning chemicals, some of which are also bad for the environment.

  6. If people are just being responsible enough and properly dispose garbage. Plastic would never be a problem.