Plastic bag campaign falls apart at the seams

Marine life killed by nets not bags shock

The bottom could be about to fall out of the government’s crusade against plastic bags, with claims that one of the key underpinnings of the campaign against them is based on nothing more than a typo.

The Times says Australian researchers, commissioned to produce a report on the effect of plastic bags, misquoted a 1980s report on deaths of ocean animals off Newfoundland. The original report covered deaths due to abandoned fishing gear and the like, saying that between 1981 and 1984, more than 100,000 marine animals, and a million birds, were killed by discarded nets.

However, the Australian researchers somehow turned that into plastic bags. Following good environmental practice, the misleading report has, apparently, been endlessly recycled to bolster the case against the modern world’s favourite standby bin liner, nappy disposal device, sports kit sorter, and football practice aid. Some people even use them to carry stuff home from shops.

Indeed, the paper quotes Greenpeace, amongst others, saying there is no evidence that plastic bags are a prime threat to the planet’s sea life.

However, the realisation has probably come too late, with the UK government poised to mandate charges for plastic bags, and the London Mayor poised to ban them altogether, with plastic bag border guards patrolling the M25 and key routes into the capital.

The Times quotes Lord Taverne, the chairman of Sense about Science, condemning the government for jumping on the anti-plastic bag bandwagon without 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.”

Perhaps the good lord is being a little naive here. The government might have no evidence that plastic bags do cause harm to marine animals, but we’re pretty sure it has evidence that a plastic bag tax will cause no harm to its efforts to greenwash Whitehall, while potentially producing a nice little earner at a time of straitened public finances. ®

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