More on Carrier Bags

I can’t believe I’m going to write a second post on carrier bags, let alone in the same week as the first, but that’s blogging for you.  Tim Worstall did me a solid and linked to my piece over at his own blog, whereupon a number of people missed the point.  So I’ll clarify.

Firstly, I wrote about my specific experience in my local supermarket where buying a carrier bag for 5p is not an option, so for all those people throwing their hands in the air and saying “Oh, it’s only 5p!” unfortunately it isn’t.  And I’ll come back to you lot later.   Although I did notice last time I was in that they’ve started offering paper bags (I don’t know for how much), so at least now customers have a (presumably) cheap option.  But if tens of millions of paper bags are more environmentally friendly to produce, use, and dispose of than plastic bags then fair enough: but I don’t think it’s enough just to assume they are.

And that’s part of my problem with the ban.  One of Tim’s commenters said:

I don’t see the objection. If you buy groceries unplanned, you pay 5p for a bag. Meanwhile, the charge has caused a massive reduction in plastic bag use, and the world will be a very slightly better place for it.

Why is it assumed that a reduction in plastic bag use makes the world a better place?  Was it better for the poor lady in Avignon whose groceries spilled all over the street?  Does using stronger, reusable plastic bags offer an overall improvement?  If so, where are the studies to back it up?  This article (thanks, Bardon) suggests the alternatives are not as good for the environment, partly because (as Tim W mentions) people would reuse carrier bags for other purposes anyway, and now they’ll be buying specific bags.

I think what has driven this ban is an assumption that the use of plastic is in itself bad.  Why, other than some vague reference to “the environment”, is not really explained.  An acquaintance of mine here in Paris took it upon herself to tell me she disagreed with my article and supported the ban because it reduced plastic use.  When I asked why she thought this was a good thing, she said there is a lot of plastic in the sea.  Which is true, but I very much doubt the plastic in the sea takes the form of carrier bags given away at checkouts in European supermarkets.  But somebody has taken the leap from plastic in the sea to plastic in general and flogged it to the gullible in order to support a ban.  Others talked about noticing a reduction in litter since the ban came into effect.  Do we have data showing litter in the form of carrier bags across Europe before and after the various bans, are people happy to go with anecdotes and feelings?  For if we accept the use of plastic in itself is bad, why carrier bags?  Should we ban Bic biros and force everyone to use pencils?

What bothered me about the ban is that it was more than likely proposed by a “charity” or pressure-group whose members will almost certainly be wealthy middle-class; the ban would have been taken up by politicians who probably haven’t bought a trolley-load from a supermarket since barcode scanners came in; and now the population can sit back in smug satisfaction at having made the world a better place.  Only a better place for whom?  The wealthy middle-classes, of course.  But what about the poor?  The middle-classes who agitated for this ban probably don’t have to go shopping with 3 kids and take the bus home, do they?  Oh no, they’ll drive the car to the nearest Waitrose, if they don’t already live within walking distance.  Tell me, what would you rather use to take 15kgs of shopping home on the bus, a paper bag or a carrier bag?  (Incidentally, my French acquaintance who approves of the ban lives alone and directly opposite an organic farmers’ market.)  And for all the quips about being organised enough to bring a bag in advance, most people don’t realise that the lives of the poor are usually neither organised nor predictable, not least because people who live appallingly disorganised lives through no fault of their own are usually poor as a result.

And that’s what really pissed me off about the “Oh, it’s only 5p!” remark.  Yes, it is only 5p, but it is 5p multiplied by however many carrier bags that is being taken out of the grocery budgets of the poorest in society.  Of course the wealthy middle-classes can afford 5p, and as far as purchasing a moment of self-righteous smugness goes, this is pretty cheap.  But this tax (for it is effectively that) is not the only one in existence and every incremental increase in the cost of living has made western Europe seriously bloody expensive to live in.  So yes, it might be “only 5p”, but when you’re shit poor and you’ve been hit with another two or three dozen charges of “only” some nominal amount, it might not seem so negligible.  It might also grate a little that those who lobbied for it are sitting in a quarter-of-a-million quid house.

And that was my point about the Soviet Union: the privileged imposing artificial material restrictions on society which hit those at the bottom hardest, all the while saying it is for their own good.

In summary, I’m not necessarily saying the ban on carrier bags is a bad thing.  I just take objection to people making the assumption that plastic use is in itself bad, alternatives better, and the ban good as if it these were self-evident truths; and the lifestyle preferences of the wealthy middle-classes being imposed on everyone else with nothing but condescending dismissal of the costs and inconvenience to those not so fortunate.

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17 thoughts on “More on Carrier Bags

  1. Spot on as always. A perfect illustration of how the Better Thans (or the “Anointed” as Thomas Sowell calls them) base policy on self-gratification and virtue signaling rather than the real consequences of their laws, rules, and regulations.

    I would add one more point. Re-useable bags are a health hazard. They are germ reservoirs, and toting them from store to store spreads the germs around.

    Further, since to avoid the “nominal” 5p charge people will reuse supposedly disposable bags, which themselves become germ reservoirs/vectors, the charge is detrimental to public health in that way as well.

    The road to hell is paved with good intentions. What’s truly perverse about these policies is that those with the alleged good intentions don’t have to travel the road that they’ve paved. They leave that for the little people.

  2. Jeez for something worth less than two-bob the war on plastic bags has certainly raised the hackles. It kind of reminds me of the recent hoopla about Corbyn getting tee shirts made in Bangladeshi “sweat shops” and how evil this was. Thing is that the Bangladeshi economy, business and workers didn’t think so. And as for the environmental pollution and public health aspects, yes the plastic bag was and still is the less harmful of all the available options as discussed by the Reason Foundation here.

    http://reason.org/news/show/plastic-bag-ban-hurts-californias-e

    I just purchased six lobster tails and thirty scallops from the fishmonger this afternoon, they handed it over in two plastic bags, just about to cook them up on my webber. The plastic bags will go into our plastic bag lined bin and eventually into our yellow recyclable bin. And not to put a cat among the pigeons, plastic bags themselves are made from hydrocarbons which are a renewable resource.

  3. “Does using stronger, reusable plastic bags offer an overall improvement? If so, where are the studies to back it up?”

    I believe a study has been done and it came up with that reusable bags are less environmentally friendly. Still information like that is not going to obtain much publicity as it is non PC so it is understandable if few know bout it.

  4. “I believe a study has been done and it came up with that reusable bags are less environmentally friendly.”

    Here is a link to one of them, and the last paragraph from the conclusion which just about sums up the problems with the raft of misguided environmental policies that we are continually told are for the greater good.

    I used to be an environmental practitioner with a large construction company and was responsible for the maintenance of various operational environmental licences with the environmental authorities. I have studied carbon, nutrient and water cycles and practiced air, land and water pollution reduction techniques and measurement. I am genuinely interested in reducing environmental harm which from a business sense makes perfect sense as waste minimization means better production and higher profits. I can tell you right now that no one is talking about the real environmental problems in the world anymore, or the pollution busting breakthroughs that are being made in say the clean coal technology area. Its all about an inert, odorless gas that plants feed on. So in my book the conclusion below holds true for issues far wider than the war on plastic bags.

    “Unfortunately, policymakers have been cajoled into passing ordinances that ban
    plastic bags. That is bad news for consumers. It is also bad news for the
    environment, since the public has been misled into believing that by restricting
    the use of plastic bags, the problems for which those bags are allegedly
    responsible will be dramatically reduced. As a result, they are less likely to
    undertake activities—such as reducing littering and supporting policies that
    would lead to better protection for marine animals—that would actually benefit
    the environment.”

    http://reason.org/files/how_green_bag_ban.pdf

  5. This is all very well, but does England vs Pakistan not warrant even a small post, or is it just the Ashes that he’s the proper treatment?

    (Also- for those of us blighted by the carrier bag tax, two post-imposition observations:

    1) the bags are definitely better quality now we pay for them
    2) stick a load in the car, and bag up out the trolley into the boot

    I have no particular stance on the tax (aside from, with food now cheaper than ever before, you can honestly say ‘I didn’t buy some veg this week because of the bag tax’), but I do like to contribute practically as it is here.

    My big question today is ‘How are the left going to oppose the Grammar school change in policy when it’s giving folks more choice and diversity?’

  6. “How are the left going to oppose the Grammar school change in policy …”

    Thick Lives Matter.

  7. Further, since to avoid the “nominal” 5p charge people will reuse supposedly disposable bags, which themselves become germ reservoirs/vectors, the charge is detrimental to public health in that way as well.

    The other example of Chesterton’s Fence I could have used was the ludicrous decision to stop weekly rubbish collections in Britain’s towns and cities: the reason regular collections were adopted in the first place was to keep vermin and disease down, it wasn’t done to appease idle housekeepers.

  8. This is all very well, but does England vs Pakistan not warrant even a small post, or is it just the Ashes that he’s the proper treatment?

    Sadly, I only really write about Ashes cricket. But England did awfully well in this last test, I watched all of yesterday’s play.

  9. And there is that other myth as well, that those 6-ring plastic things that hold six drink cans together are infesting the oceans and large amounts of fish are being killed by them getting their heads caught in them.

  10. Plastic in the ocean is clearly bad, and even “studies have shown” this to be the case. I share Tim’s incredulity that much of it arises from shopping bags distributed hundreds of miles from the ocean in Europe. If it did, we’d surely have a Mediterranean gyre of plastic waste from all the (at least relatively) wealthy countries with densely-populated coastlines on the Med. And if this really is the source, we need to stop using plastic bin liners too.

    Paper is not the technological solution – at least 1 Italian supermarket has an effective and biodegradable carrier bag. I found out just how biodegradable by cleaning out the fragments and dust from the plastic bag collection a few months after acquiring said bag.

    So why isn’t anyone looking at the source? What products are ending up in the ocean, and from where? It has to be more than warm-up meal containers tipped off the side of cargo ships, or water bottles blown off Californian beaches. Oh – because the easy target is easier.

  11. So why isn’t anyone looking at the source? What products are ending up in the ocean, and from where? It has to be more than warm-up meal containers tipped off the side of cargo ships, or water bottles blown off Californian beaches.

    That’s exactly what I was going to say, but you beat me to it. There should be some serious studies into the origin of this plastic out at sea, and the cynic in me probably would say these studies have been done but the finger is pointed at the developing world, and – as you say – it’s easier to shake down the guilt-ridden middle classes in the West.

    Incidentally, probably the most plastic-ridden beach I have been on in my life is this one, near Lagos, Nigeria.

  12. Must admit Mrs G. is a stickler for recycled plastic bags and I’m often threatened with castration for returning from the Kwik-E-Mart with new plastic bags. However it hasn’t gone unnoticed that the tattered bag I commandeered this morning to carry home bread and milk was also used last week to transport chicken and fish. The least we can do for those nice people in the hydrocarbons industry (and our overstretched NHS) is to use fresh plastic bags each time we shop.

  13. The least we can do for those nice people in the hydrocarbons industry

    Brother, can you spare a dime?

  14. From our limited perspective, this has had the desired effect:
    – we regularly used to bin all our supermarket bags so it genuinely was going to landfill
    – it’s allowed the supermarkets to make bags that actually work: prior to the ban, the supermarkets were under huge pressure to reduce the amount of plastic used to make a bag that they became almost useless: far too thin and mostly chalk rather than plastic. This trend has been reversed.
    – the bigger stronger bags are useful for more than just groceries – loading a car for a journey is far easier.
    – well packed (and the bigger stronger bags are easier to pack well), your stuff is less likely to be damaged.

    So we genuinely do reuse our big reusable bags and we’re not putting stuff in landfill – given the choice, I wouldn’t go back to disposables. Just my tuppence.

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