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Plastic Bag Update

Ever since John J. Miller linked to my Examiner post about Jim Kraft’s inane comments equating plastic bags with the Nazis, the NRO crew has had some fun with it. Andrew Stuttaford noted a British story that the good councilman might want to investigate:

John, perhaps that Baltimore City Councilman should read this report from the London Times:

Scientists and environmentalists have attacked a global campaign to ban plastic bags which they say is based on flawed science and exaggerated claims. The widely stated accusation that the bags kill 100,000 animals and a million seabirds every year are false, experts have told The Times.

They pose only a minimal threat to most marine species, including seals, whales, dolphins and seabirds. Gordon Brown announced last month that he would force supermarkets to charge for the bags, saying that they were “one of the most visible symbols of environmental waste”. Retailers and some pressure groups, including the Campaign to Protect Rural England, threw their support
behind him…

The central claim of campaigners is that the bags kill more than 100,000 marine mammals and one million seabirds every year. However, this figure is based on a misinterpretation of a 1987 Canadian study in Newfoundland, which found that, between 1981 and 1984, more than 100,000 marine mammals, including birds, were killed by discarded nets. The Canadian study did not mention plastic bags.

Fifteen years later in 2002, when the Australian Government commissioned a report into the effects of plastic bags, its authors misquoted the Newfoundland study, mistakenly attributing the deaths to “plastic bags”.

The figure was latched on to by conservationists as proof that the bags were killers. For four years the “typo” remained uncorrected. It was only in 2006 that the authors altered the report, replacing “plastic bags” with “plastic debris”. But they admitted: “The actual numbers of animals killed annually by plastic bag litter is nearly impossible to determine.”

In a postscript to the correction they admitted that the original Canadian study had referred to fishing tackle, not plastic debris, as the threat to the marine environment. Regardless, the erroneous claim has become the keystone of a widening campaign to demonise plastic bags. David Santillo, a marine biologist at Greenpeace, told The Times that bad science was undermining the Government’s case for banning the bags. “It’s very unlikely that many animals are killed by plastic bags,” he said. “The evidence shows just the opposite. We are not going to solve the problem of waste by focusing on plastic bags.”






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