Flip-Flops and Carrier Bags

William of Ockham risks legal action over exclusivity rights to bring us this story about carrier bags:

In Australia, most states/territories, with the exception of New South Wales, have banned supermarkets from giving away single use plastic bags with shopping.

In response to this, the duopoly of Coles and Woolworths have removed said bags from New South Wales’ stores too. I’m sure this decision was reached for purely environmentally-righteous reasons and not simply because running two different processes and sourcing operations is inefficient.

Only a few days later:

Supermarket giant Coles has buckled to the backlash from its customers over paying 15 cents for reusable plastic bags and will now give them away to shoppers for free indefinitely.

A year ago the retailer announced it would phase out single-use plastic bags in its supermarkets by July 1, but appeared to be caught unprepared for the negative consumer response that followed.

So customers find carrier bags useful and prefer them to be free? Who would have thought? The hand-wringing middle classes didn’t like this though, among them the otherwise sensible Claire Lehmann, founder of Quillette:

Whereas I’d say it takes a lot more balls to reject pointless middle class environmental posturing than to go along with it. Good on Coles’ customers! Alas, my celebrations were to be short-lived:

Coles has done a double backflip on providing free plastic bags and will recommence charging customers for them after coming under fire from green groups and consumers for giving them away for free.

In a message to the retailer’s 115,000 staff on Thursday, Durkan said the ban on single-use plastic bags had been a “big and difficult” change for customers.

While customers had been growing more and more accustomed to bringing reusable bags, many were still finding themselves one or two short at the register.

So in the absence of a law banning free bags in New South Wales, who is driving this campaign against customers’ interests?

Environmental groups, including a vocal Greenpeace, and like-minded shoppers had heaped criticism on Coles for deciding to go back on its original plan to only temporarily provide reusable bags for free.

Ah yes. As usual, it’s a loud minority of wealthy middle class do-gooders via multi-million dollar lobby groups masquerading as charities. That Coles sided with them over actual customers says a lot about modern corporate management.

Share

The last straw? If only.

On the plastic drinking straws ban:

At the center of these conversations is a statistic: Each day, Americans use an estimated 500 million straws. The number has been used to illustrate the scale of the issue and modern society’s reliance on this ubiquitous piece of disposable plastic.

It turns out, however, that the number is imprecise and originates from Milo Cress, a young environmentalist who researched straw usage to come up with the 500 million estimate when he was just nine years old.

As a curious fourth grader who had just started an environmental project to discourage restaurants from providing straws by default, Cress decided to look online to find out how many straws are used each day in the United States. Not being able to find any statistics, he called straw manufacturers directly and estimated the 500 million figure based on numbers they provided him.

What I find most annoying is that the dubious origin of this figure has been known for well over a year, but rarely gets mentioned by those pushing for a ban on plastic straws. Of course, there’s a reason for this: banning plastic straws in developed countries is nothing to do with saving the environment and everything to do with quasi-religious virtue-signalling and prod-nosed busy-bodying. As we’ve seen elsewhere, the pious middle classes have seized upon a product they don’t use and called for it to be banned in order to smooth their passage to whatever they consider an afterlife. Note they don’t campaign for disposable nappies to be banned.

Religious fervour often causes people to behave strangely, and in this regard Californians are trying to outdo everyone else:

The city of Santa Barbara has passed an ordinance that will allow restaurant employees to be punished with up to six months of jail time or a $1,000 fine after a second offense of giving plastic straws to their customers.

The bill was passed unanimously last Tuesday, and covers bars, restaurants, and other food-service businesses. Establishments will still be allowed to hand out plastic stirrers, but only if customers request them.

And as the article points out:

Oh, and each individual straw counts as a separate infraction, meaning that if someone got busted handing out straws to a table of four people, he or she could end up facing years behind bars.

Bear in mind that California recently decriminilised the act of knowingly infecting a partner with HIV, several cities have refused to cooperate with federal immigration authorities, and areas of San Francisco have turned into third-world slums festooned with used needles and human shit.

This business with the drinking straws isn’t an isolated incident, but part of a pattern which can be seen elsewhere. The ruling classes have neither the competence or incentive to tackle serious problems so instead involve themselves with initiatives which solve nothing but make them look useful. They’re further encouraged by a noisy minority of virtue-signalling puritans, almost all of whom work in government, media, or for corporations firmly engaged in moral posturing. In the case of the plastic in the oceans, part of the problem is western countries deciding landfill is evil so encouraging everyone to recycle. Only to get around their own environmental legislation the bulk plastic is shipped to Asia, where a lot of it ends up horsed in the river. Rather than examine their own stupid rules, or put pressure on Africans and Asians to stop chucking crap in the sea, it’s easier to launch social media campaigns clamouring for new laws which further criminalise ordinary people for mundane behaviour. Never mind disabled people rely on plastic drinking straws to consume fluids, as far as Metropolitan mothers groups on Facebook are concerned, they’ll just have to manage somehow.

I see a parallel here with the ludicrous campaign to ban upskirting. This was pushed by privileged middle class women and will consume considerable government resources which could better be spent elsewhere. Like putting a stop, once and for all, to the systematic and widespread abuse of vulnerable young girls in provincial English towns, for instance. Yes, this is still going on and nobody is interested, in part because inconvenient voices are handily drowned out by women demanding special laws because a drunken oaf supposedly took a photo up someone’s skirt in a festival. There is subset of western society which believes the role of government is to intervene on every minor issue over which they wring their hands, no matter how ignorant they are of it. Judging by my own social media feed, a lot this stuff seems to be driven by bored men and women who, lacking the time, talent, or discipline for a proper hobby, jump on these campaigns to give themselves a sense of purpose. Yet at the same time there is far less pressure to solve problems which are certain to have catastrophic consequences: mass immigration, uncontrollable public spending, unaffordable housing, and dangerous social divisions.

It’s often said that a sign of country undergoing improvement is a growing middle class. What I think we’re seeing now is what happens when the middle classes get too big and too comfortable for too long. It won’t end well.

Share

Burning Burberry

This is interesting from an economics point of view:

Burberry, the upmarket British fashion label, destroyed unsold clothes, accessories and perfume worth £28.6m last year to protect its brand.

It takes the total value of goods it has destroyed over the past five years to more than £90m.

Fashion firms including Burberry destroy unwanted items to prevent them being stolen or sold cheaply.

Someone has obviously done some calculations and estimated the damage done to the brand’s image by selling their products at a discount is greater than £90m. So, it’s cheaper to burn it.

Burberry is not the only company having to deal with a surplus of luxury stock.

Richemont, which owns the Cartier and Montblanc brands, has had to buy back €480m (£430m) worth of watches over the last two years.

Analysts say some parts of those watches would be recycled – but much would be thrown away.

Better than being flogged second hand on eBay, obviously. Naturally:

Environmental campaigners are angry about the waste.

Those last three words feel superfluous.

“Despite their high prices, Burberry shows no respect for their own products and the hard work and natural resources that are used to made them,” said Lu Yen Roloff of Greenpeace.

You can imagine the mental gymnastics they went through trying to put their knee-jerk objections into vaguely-coherent words, can’t you?

“The growing amount of overstock points to overproduction, and instead of slowing down their production, they incinerate perfectly good clothes and products.

Are they still producing the same line of clothes they’re burning? Unlikely. And since Lu Yen Roloff brought up thrift:

Maybe we can get Burberry employees and shareholders to comment on her lifestyle?

Share

BREAKING: Plastic found to be useful

This from the BBC is a surprisingly balanced and informative article on plastic use:

Located in the south Atlantic, on the fringes of the Antarctic, it is nearly 1,000 miles (1,500km) from the nearest major human settlement. Yet even here Waluda, an ecologist with the British Antarctic Survey, is finding worrying signs of our throw-away attitude towards plastic. Regularly she finds seals entangled in this debris or albatross chicks coughing up bits of plastic film.

Of course, the BBC fails to acknowledge that almost all the plastic in the ocean comes from a handful of rivers in Africa and Asia: “our” throw-away attitude seems to belong to people quite different from me. But this aside, the BBC does a reasonable job of looking at the costs of foisting changes on western societies and highlights some of the issues the dim middle classes might have overlooked in their campaigns. For example:

While the cost of producing bottles can vary depending on the raw material and energy prices at the time, it is generally not that much more expensive to produce a glass bottle versus one made from PET – about $0.01 more, according to some analysis.

However, when manufacturers start transporting produce in glass bottles, costs start to rise. A 330ml plastic soft drink bottle contains around 18 grams of material while a glass bottle can weigh between 190g and 250g. Transporting drinks in the heavier containers requires 40% more energy, producing more polluting carbon dioxide as they do and increasing transport costs by up to five times per bottle.

“In many cases plastics are actually better for the environment than the alternatives,” explains Selke. “It is surprising until you look closely at it.”

There’s also the problem that glass breaks, meaning it needs extra protection.

A report by the American Chemistry Council and environmental accounting firm Trucost estimates that the environmental costs – which places a value on dealing with the pollution generated by a product – would be five times higher if the soft drinks industry used alternative packaging like glass, tin or aluminium instead of plastic. As governments seek to penalise polluting companies with carbon taxes and levies, these costs may be passed onto consumers.

“Food costs are going to increase – there can be no doubt about that,” says Dick Searle, chief executive of the British Packaging Federation, which represents the industry in the UK.

I shouldn’t imagine this worries the hand-wringing middle class evangelists in London one jot. As we saw with carrier bags, their disdainful dismissal of increased costs to the poorest in society would make a 17th century French courtier blush.

There are some, however, who warn that abandoning plastic after nearly 70 years of using it to package our food could have other far more costly, unintended consequences.

What may at first appear to be a wasteful plastic bag wrapped around your cucumber, for example, is actually a sophisticated tool for increasing the shelf-life of your food. Years of research have allowed plastics to push the time food lasts for from days to weeks.

“I think people underestimate the benefits of plastics in reducing food waste,” says Anthony Bull, professor of chemistry and director of The Grantham Centre for Sustainable Futures at the University of Sheffield.

The claim that food and logisitics companies, whose margins are razor thin, waste money on unnecessary packaging was always ludicrous.

The shrink wrap used on cucumbers for instance, can more than double the length of time the vegetable can last, allowing it to be kept for up to 15 days in the fridge and cutting food waste in half. An unwrapped cucumber would last just two days at room temperature and 9 days if refrigerated.

Beef bought in polystyrene foam trays covered with plastic film will generally last between three and seven days. However if it is vacuum-packed in multilayer plastic, it can be kept for up to 45 days without spoiling. Environmental accounting firm Trucost estimate that vacuum-packing sirloin steak can cut food waste almost in half compared to conventional plastic.

Much of the food we now buy in supermarkets comes tightly wrapped in sealed plastic films and protective trays. This keeps fresh meat in an oxygen-free atmosphere, helping to prevent it from spoiling. Delicate fruit and vegetables are also kept safe from bumps that can degrade them, meaning they’re more likely to be sold. Putting grapes in their own individual plastic boxes has been found to cut food waste by 75%.

So packaging on food serves a purpose, eh? Who knew? Well, P.J. O’Rourke for  a  start: in one of his books he writes about how some researcher excavated landfills in both the USA and Mexico and found while Mexicans use about half as much packaging as Americans, they throw away twice as much food.

Plastic wrapping can also keep fruit and vegetables in their own little microclimates – known in the industry as modified atmosphere packaging – which can help to prevent them from ripening too quicky.

It’s almost as if the companies shipping fruit around the world know more about packaging than self-righteous housewives in Islington, isn’t it?

While some believe that single-use plastic packaging has actually led to an increase in the amount of food we throw away by encouraging a culture of disposability, many in the plastics industry argue that without plastic packaging, the cost of food waste could rise.

Who to believe? An industry which can demonstrate the utility of its products or new-age evangelists using woolly terms like “culture of disposability”?

In this light, it might not make sense to ban plastics altogether but instead make plastics better.

“Rather than going back, it is perhaps more useful to look at innovation,” says Eliot Whittington. “There are more and more companies that are reinventing plastics with additives that help them break down or making plastics that are biodegradable.”

Another bioplastics leader is Coca-Cola, which two years ago launched the PlantBottle, a PET partially made with Brazilian sugarcane.

A burger box made from sugarcane for instance, is almost twice as expensive as one made from polystyrene. A biodegradable takeaway fork made from plant starch costs 3.5 times more than a basic white plastic one.

So is tearing down thousands of square kilometres of Brazilian rainforest in order to grow this sugarcane better for the planet than simply sticking with plastic? Or don’t we worry where the stuff comes from, just how we dispose of it?

But Anthony Bull sees other problems with the widespread use of biodegradable packaging.

“It treats the symptoms, not the disease,” he says. “If the disease is our throw-away society, making packaging biodegradable only encourages people to throw more away.”

Instead, he suggests another solution: use more plastic.

Heh. Good lad.

And as many countries seek to introduce new laws that will put new levies on plastic bags and ban certain types of single use packaging, refillable and reusable options may become more attractive.

For Claire Waluda, whose team is monitoring the levels of plastic waste in South Georgia, the price of making these changes is one worth paying.

“We are seeing wandering albatross parents feeding plastic to their chicks,” she says. “Anything that can reduce the amount of plastic debris in the environment is a step in the right direction.”

And even if it doesn’t – and it won’t – you have signalled your virtue. Might I suggest you start attending church or, if you’re really concerned about plastic, have a word with the Africans and Asians who are chucking it into their rivers? Or does your religion not work that way?

Share

McStork Happy Meal and SIM Card Combo

This story is amusing, and so very African:

A Polish charity has received a huge phone bill after it lost a GPS tracker that it had placed on the back of a stork, it’s reported.

According to official broadcaster Radio Poland , the environmental EcoLogic Group placed a tracker on the back of a white stork last year to track the bird’s migratory habits.

It travelled some 3,700 miles (6,000kms), and was traced to the Blue Nile Valley in eastern Sudan before the charity lost contact.

EcoLogic told the Super Express newspaper that somebody found the tracker in Sudan, removed the sim card and put it in their own phone, where they then racked up 20 hours’ worth of phone calls.

Radio Poland says that the organisation has received a phone bill of over 10,000 Polish zloty ($2,700; £2,064), which it will have to pay.

I strongly suspect the stork was cooked and eaten, too.

Share

When Bureaucracies Empty Bins

Via Twitter I came across the graphics Edinburgh City Council issues to households to let them know on which day their bins should be put out for collection. Here’s an example below:

Only a modern government bureaucracy could come up with something like that for the once-simple task of emptying the bins. And as someone on Twitter asks, where is each household supposed to find the space for five separate bins?

This is what happens when state bodies become employment programs, entirely divorced from the customer when providing a service.

Share

Banned Chemicals

I don’t have any opinion on this story:

Member states will vote on Friday on an almost complete ban on the use of neonicotinoid insecticides across the EU.

Scientific studies have linked their use to the decline of honeybees, wild bees and other pollinators.

But I will say…

Another key element that has pushed the Commission to hold a vote has been the UK’s change of heart on the use of these insecticides. Environment Secretary Michael Gove announced last November that the UK would now support further restrictions.

“I think it has helped the dynamic,” Franziska Achterberg from Greenpeace told BBC News.

“It has helped sway Ireland definitely, and then lately, the Germans, the Austrians and the Dutch. I think the fact the UK had come around was a good signal for them as well, that they could not stay behind.”

“Several countries have said they want exemptions on sugar beet for example,” said Sandra Bell from Friends of the Earth (FOE).

“So far the Commission have been very strong on this, because they say the Efsa evidence backs the extension of the ban to sugar beet and therefore they are following the science and won’t put in an exemption for a compromise.”

…any EU initiative which has the support of Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth ought to be treated with extreme caution.

Many farmers are unhappy about the proposed increase in restrictions, saying they do not believe they are warranted on scientific grounds and that the existing partial ban has not delivered results.

So we have British farmers getting up at 5am every morning to labour in the fields; and we have wealthy middle-class do-gooders sitting in climate-controlled offices in European cities banning things they find useful. Even if this ban is necessary I don’t like the setup much, mainly because it is representative of how so much of the western world is governed these days.

Which brings me onto something else. I have heard from several disparate sources that EU regulations have slowly eradicated any sort of useful household chemical, from cleaning products, to garden pesticides and weedkillers, to wood preservers. Is this true? Anyone know? I assume school caretakers no longer mark the running track with creosote, which is a shame because I liked the smell of that stuff. My dad also used to slap it on saw blades to keep them from rusting. I have no idea where he got it from, presumably you could buy it somewhere. I bet you couldn’t just go into B&Q today and buy a litre of the stuff. Not being a user of chemicals I don’t know how things have changed, but I’d be curious to know if EU regulations have removed useful products from the shelves.

Share

A Lightbulb Moment

So today I go into France’s biggest DIY chain to buy a lightbulb. The type I’m after is one of the small, spiral-wound fluorescent bulbs which fits neatly into a ceiling lamp. Only they no longer sell fluorescent light bulbs: they’ve all been replaced by LED bulbs, which are better. But they’re not the same shape, having a more bulbous glass piece (similar to the old incandescent ones) for the same connection size, and it doesn’t fit the lamp.

No doubt I can buy the bulb elsewhere, but answer me this: which fucking dickhead persuaded governments worldwide to force hundreds of millions of people to switch to fluorescent bulbs when LED bulbs, which would make them obsolete, were just a few years over the horizon? Can we get hold of them and string them up by the balls please, followed by each and every politician who went along with this idiocy?

Share

King Conned

From The Telegraph:

German car-makers have “blood on their hands” due to rigging diesel exhaust tests which led to the deaths of thousands of Britons, the Government’s former chief scientist has said.

Professor Sir David King said it was “simply astonishing” that Volkswagen, BMW and Daimler had performed rigged experiments on monkeys and that such duplicity had caused the deaths of large numbers of people in the UK.

The Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser until 2007, Sir David described being duped into believing diesel capture technology was safe during a trip to a British testing lab in 2004, prompting a policy shift in favour of diesel cars.

I can see why David King is so angry. He used to get paraded around in the Blair years as some sort of high priest of science, his words clung to by the political establishment even when he came up with such idiocy as suggesting ExxonMobil should move Fawley refinery inland to avoid being flooded by rising sea levels. I expect he also subscribed to the same view as much of Britain’s political establishment that Germans, when it comes to industry, can do nothing wrong and we should stand in awe of their brilliance (have a look at how the Remainer press fawns over Merkel and every pronouncement on Brexit from German “business leaders”).

And it turns out he’s had the wool pulled over his eyes. Leaving aside the irony that a government appointee who was instrumental in pushing the climate change agenda should now complain of being misled, there’s a bigger issue here than King’s ego. Sweeping legislation such as that which encouraged millions of British people to buy diesel cars ought to be based on something a little more robust than an individual’s opinion after visiting a lab with seemingly no interest in ensuring what he was seeing was a legitimate test. I suspect King didn’t enquire further because the lab told him what he, and his political masters, wanted to hear; the lab knew in advance what King and wanted to hear, and so rigged the test; and VW simply wanted to flog more cars while keeping politicians happy.

The lesson here is that governments, even ones containing extremely clever folk like Professor Sir David King, are susceptible to being hoodwinked by people who understand the details a lot better than they do, causing them to bring about disastrous policies. The answer is to get rid of positions such as Chief Scientific Adviser and sack politicians who put their beak into places where it doesn’t belong bringing harm to the rest of us.

Share

Plastic in the Ocean

Ocean plastic a ‘planetary crisis’

booms the UN.

Life in the seas risks irreparable damage from a rising tide of plastic waste, the UN oceans chief has warned.

Lisa Svensson said governments, firms and individual people must act far more quickly to halt plastic pollution.

I saw Lisa Svensson on TV this morning and she’s a rather attractive blonde-haired Scandinavian. Imagine how surprised I was to find a wealthy, middle-class white woman complaining about environmental degradation in Africa and not, say, an African.

Ms Svensson had just been saddened by a Kenyan turtle hospital which treats animals that have ingested waste plastic.

She saw a juvenile turtle named Kai, brought in by fishermen a month ago because she was floating on the sea surface.

Plastic waste was immediately suspected, because if turtles have eaten too much plastic it bloats their bellies and they can’t control their buoyancy.

Kai was given laxatives for two weeks to clear out her system, and Ms Svensson witnessed an emotional moment as Kai was carried back to the sea to complete her recovery.

I’ve run out of handkerchiefs already. But enough about Kai the turtle and his laxatives: where’s all this plastic coming from?

“It’s a very happy moment,” she said. “But sadly we can’t be sure that Kai won’t be back again if she eats more plastic.

“It’s heart-breaking, but it’s reality. We just have to do much more to make sure the plastics don’t get into the sea in the first place.”

Fuck me, I said enough about Kai! Okay, here we go:

There’s waste from down the coast as far as Tanzania – but also from Madagascar, the Comoros Islands, Thailand, Indonesia and even a bottle from far-away Japan.

Those famously littering Japanese, eh? Has anyone actually done any concrete research into where the bulk of this plastic is actually coming from? Perhaps unsurprisingly, most of the reports on plastic in the ocean steer well clear of actually identifying the source, but this one tells us (page 7):

Less than 20 percent of leakage originates from ocean-based sources like fisheries and fishing vessels. This means over 80 percent of ocean plastic comes from land-based sources; once plastic is discarded, it is not well managed, and thus leaks into the ocean. Over half of land-based plastic-waste leakage originates in just five countries: China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam, referred to in this report as the five focus countries for action.

I’d also hazard a guess that most of the plastic littering the beaches in Africa and giving poor Kai indigestion was discarded locally, either from the land or ships anchored offshore. Here’s a photo I took on a beach in Lagos:

How much of that lot do you think bobbed over from Japan or started life as a carrier bag in a supermarket in Paris? But of course, it is the behaviour of westerners that is the problem:

Tisha Brown from Greenpeace told BBC News: “We welcome that they are looking at a stronger statement, but with billions of tonnes of plastic waste entering the oceans we need much more urgent action.

“We need manufacturers to take responsibility for their products – and we need to look at our consumption patterns that are driving all this.”

“Our” consumption patterns are causing Asians to chuck plastic into rivers. uh-huh.

Finally the article gets around to the underlying problem:

Indonesia – the world’s second biggest plastics polluter after China – has pledged to reduce plastic waste into the ocean 75% by 2025, but some observers doubt legal rules are strong enough to make this happen.

What do they propose as an alternative? Military intervention?

Plastic waste is also on the agenda for this month’s China Council – an influential high level dialogue in which world experts advise China’s leaders on environmental issues.

The Chinese being famously receptive to foreign “experts” telling them what to do.

Kenya itself has banned single-use plastic bags, along with Rwanda, Tanzania and – soon- Sri Lanka. Bangladesh has had controls for many years, especially to stop bags clogging up drains and causing floods.

Ah yes, I wrote about the Kenyan ban on plastic bags here.

But bags are just one part of the problem – there are so many other types of plastic flowing through waterways.

“The UN process is slow,” Ms Svensson admitted. “It could take 10 years to get a UN treaty agreed on plastic litter and a further two years to get it implemented.

“We have to progress through the UN because this is a truly global problem – but we can’t wait that long.

We have five Asian countries chucking plastic into the sea, but we have to go through the laborious, ten-year process of getting a UN treaty because it’s a global problem?

“We need to get much stronger actions from civil society, putting pressure on business to change – they can switch their supply chains very fast. And we need more individual governments to take urgent action too.”

What this means, of course, is making goods and services more expensive and more difficult to obtain for reasonably conscientious and responsible westerners while ignoring those who are actually chucking the plastic in the sea. Oh, and providing cushy 10-year assignments attending UN briefings for a handful of wealthy, middle-class people like Lisa Svensson.

Ms Svensson said the ocean was facing multiple assault from over-fishing; pollution from chemicals, sewage and agriculture; development in coastal areas; climate change; ocean acidification; and over-exploitation of coral reefs.

“This is a planetary emergency,” she said. “I sense there is a momentum now about the need to act. We just have to be much faster.”

As we left Watamu after Kai’s joyous release, I turned back for one last glance at the Indian Ocean. A small boy tossed a plastic bottle over his shoulder into the sparkling water.

I have a feeling this article was written in the wrong language, and published in the wrong place. I get that plastic in the ocean is a serious problem, but why are they always nagging us about it?

Share